Following a nine-day layoff for the holidays, the Ohio State women's basketball team concluded its non-conference schedule and began Big Ten play in much the same fashion they have played all season, with inconsistency juxtaposed to focused effort.
On the Sunday following Christmas, the Buckeyes hosted North Carolina Central in the final game of the non-conference slate, beating the Eagles 65-47. Despite the 18-point win, 21 turnovers and a 4-18 three-point shooting performance made for an ugly game and a less than pleased head coach.
"We just don't play with enough consistency," Head Coach Kevin McGuff said. "We had stretches where we played well, then we would let down. For us to reach our potential as a team, we have to become more consistent as a group."
Ohio State was paced by senior center Darryce Moore, who had 16 points and 6 rebounds off the bench, and junior guard Maleeka Kynard, who scored a career-high 11. The team's leading scorer on the season, sophomore guard Ameryst Alston, shot just 2-7 from the floor, including 0-5 from the three-point line, for a season-low 7 points.
But as has been the story with the Lady Buckeyes all season, frustration was followed quickly by elation, as the team upset No. 17 Purdue 89-78 at Value City Arena on January 2nd. Shooting over 56 percent from the field and 63 percent from three-point range, and outrebounding the Boilermakers by a 38-29 margin, Ohio State made a strong statement in its Big Ten opener.
Alston and senior forward Martina Ellerbe led five Buckeyes in double-figures with 19 points apiece. The team's 89 points was the third-highest output of the season.
"We beat a really good team tonight," McGuff said. "We've been preaching internally about inconsistent play, and we got closer to forty minutes than we have all year. We had a stretch in the second half when we got the lead and extended it a little bit by continuing to do the things that allowed us to be successful. We haven't really done that lately."
The high of an upset did not last long, however, as Ohio State fell to Michigan at home on Sunday. Horrific outside shooting and a beat down on the boards resulted in a 64-49 loss to every Buckeye's most staunchly-detested rival.
Led by Alston's 15 points, the Buckeyes shot just 31 percent from the field for the game, and had a five minute stretch of the first half in which they failed to score at all. The team was just 6-25 (24%) from beyond the arc, and was outrebounded 48-33 in a disappointing effort.
"It's disappointing because all of the things that we were so good at Thursday [against Purdue], all the things we can control, we didn't today," McGuff said. "I was very disappointed to how we responded off a great win."
The disparate performances in the first two conference games encapsulate what we have seen from the Lady Buckeyes thus far this season. There is great potential, but consistency is the key. The team will need to regain some of the form it displayed against the Boilermakers next week, as they head out on the road to clash with two more ranked conference opponents. Undefeated, 22nd-ranked Indiana awaits Ohio State on Saturday in Bloomington, followed by No. 14 Penn State next Thursday in State College.