Just one game stands between the Ohio State Women's Basketball team and the beginning of the Big Ten schedule, and many of the questions being asked before the season still remain. The Buckeyes are 9-6 and have won three of their last four, but uneven offensive production and mental letdowns are a cause for concern with conference play looming.
After losing three straight games to ranked opponents, Ohio State bounced back with wins against Army, Tennessee-Martin, and Appalachian State over the past two weeks, but very little came easy in those games.
The Buckeyes used a 10-1 run to close out a win over Army, 59-56, and put an end to their three-game losing streak. Trailing by 10 points with just under seven minutes left to play, Head Coach Kevin McGuff's squad used defensive pressure and clutch free throw shooting to complete the comeback. Army did not score a field goal in the game's final two minutes.
Ameryst Alston led three Buckeyes in double figures with 18 points, and Raven Ferguson recorded her first career double-double in the win. The pair knocked down six free throws in the final 1:19 to ice the game.
After the drama of the Army game, Ohio State's road tilt against Cincinnati left little to the imagination. In a game in which the team looked sluggish, the Bearcats outrebounded the Buckeyes, got to the free throw line three times as often, and held a 9-point edge in transition scoring en route to a 64-49 victory.
McGuff found the team's effort to be a cause for concern.
"We played with very little pace today," he said. "And that's not even necessarily in the full court. Even in the half court, we stood, and we were slow to reverse the ball, and we didn't drive agressively. We were just really lethargic on offense."
Alston and Darryce Moore paced the team with 12 points apiece, and the team's icy shooting continued. The Buckeyes shot just 33 percent from the floor and 20 percent from the three-point line. For the weekend, Ohio State made just 5 of 28 three-point attempts (17.8 percent).
"In general, we don't have a whole lot of margin for error in terms of winning," McGuff said. "We don't have ten McDonald's All-Americans sitting on the bench. But we can be very successful if we win the war of intangibles."
The team made amends for the disaster in Cincinnati with a dominating performance against Tennessee-Martin last Tuesday at Value City Arena. Junior guard Amy Scullion spurred the 82-60 rout, hitting all five of her 3-point attempts en route to a career-high 19 points.
"We talked in practice about being the aggressor and playing with confidence," Scullion said. "When I watched film, I saw that I need to be more aggressive, too."
Four other Buckeyes scored in double-figures in the game, as the team shot over 52 percent from the field, easily their best showing in weeks.
As has been the case all season, though, the Buckeyes followed up an inspired performance with a sluggish one. 11 first half turnovers and poor shooting led to a 21-18 halftime deficit at home against Appalachian State on Friday. The players and coaches alike were disappointed in the team's effort in the first 20 minutes.
"Maybe some of them had gone on Christmas break a little early," McGuff said. "We had to remind them at halftime that we had a game here. We needed to execute and we needed to continue our quest to get better."
Spurred by senior center Ashley Adams and tenacious defense, Ohio State ripped off a 14-0 run in the second half to take the lead. Adams led all scorers with 12 points, and added 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal, as the Buckeyes pulled away and won 52-38.
"We just realized that we shouldn't be losing," Adams said. "We honestly should have been beating that team the whole time. We just had a talk how we were going to pick our energy up. The first half was extremely embarrassing."
After the game, McGuff praised the leadership of Adams, who has found herself in a bench role this season after being a starter last year.
"It's what you want out of your seniors," McGuff said. "She was excellent. It was the best game she's had in a long time."
The Buckeyes are now enjoying a nine-day break before finishing off the non-conference schedule against North Carolina Central on Sunday. Big Ten play will then begin with a matchup against a Top-25 Purdue team on January 2nd.