Well, that was a fun ride. The coaches, players, and fans of Ohio State women's basketball knew the team had more to show than the conference regular season had suggested, and the Buckeyes let it out in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, coming within four points of an appearance in the championship game. A 77-73 loss to Iowa on Saturday eliminated an Ohio State team that caught fire this week.
"A couple things didn't go our way [against Iowa] but very, very proud of this group, especially our seniors," said Head Coach Kevin McGuff after the loss to the Hawkeyes. "Any time you take over a job, the thing you wish for most is you inherit great kids. And we have some wonderful young women in this program and it was a real pleasure to coach them this year."
Ohio State entered the Big Ten tournament as the 8th seed, after finishing the regular season 5-11 in conference play. The Buckeyes took on Northwestern, a team they had beaten soundly just a week and a half earlier, 71-62, on Senior Night at Value City Arena. This time around, the teams played a wild one. In a game that featured nine ties and seven lead changes, McGuff's squad prevailed 86-77 over the Wildcats. Ohio State started quickly, but actually trailed at the half, 39-35, thanks to a 16-0 Northwestern run. A season-high 11 three-pointers made, a 19-20 day at the foul line, and a season-low eight turnovers by the Buckeyes was too much for the Wildcats to overcome, though.
"Our players stayed relentless," McGuff said. "We we really aggressive, especially in the second half."
Sophomore guard Ameryst Alston, who on Sunday was named to the All-Big Ten first team by both the coaches and media, led all scorers with 30 points. This was her fourth 30-point effort of the season, and the second against Northwestern. 20 of Alston's 30 came in the second half.
Also having big games for the Buckeyes were seniors Darryce Moore and Martina Ellerbe, who each posted double-doubles. Moore notched 19 points and 10 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, while Ellerbe added 16 points and 13 boards, as Ohio State remained undefeated in first round games played in Indianapolis in program history.
The win over Northwestern was shortly celebrated, though, as waiting in the wings was top-seeded Penn State. The Lady Lions dominated the Buckeyes in their two regular season matchups, winning both by at least a twenty point margin. Penn State's Maggie Lucas, the second-leading scorer in the conference, had been named Big Ten Player of the Year by the media, and also found herself on the list of Wooden Award finalists.
In what can only be described as a basketball blitzkrieg, Ohio State dominated the game from start to finish, blowing away several Big Ten tournament records in the process, and came away with a 99-82 victory.
"I've said it a lot of times - if we can get everybody kind of playing at their best at the same time, I think we can have something special," McGuff said. "I think that's basically what you saw. It doesn't happen all of the time, but it wasn't like there was anybody out there doing anything they can't do. We just had everybody kind of doing what they're capable of at the same time."
Penn State held the lead in the game for all of 25 seconds, as the Buckeyes came out of the gate on fire from beyond the arc. The team made eight of their first ten three-point attempts in the first ten minutes of action, including four by Alston and three by sophomore Cait Craft. By the end of the first half, the team had made 10-14 from deep, and led 58-34. The 58 points were a Big Ten tournament record for points in a half.
The lead was pushed out to 27 at one point in the second half, and still stood at 20 with just under five minutes left, but Penn State refused to go quietly. The Lady Lions cut the deficit to as little as nine, but solid free throw shooting down the stretch by the Buckeyes sealed the win. The team made 11 of 12 from the charity stripe in the final three minutes.
Ohio State's 99 points were a record for the Big Ten tournament, as was their 62.1 percent shooting from the floor. The team finished 10-18 from three-point range and 17-23 from the free throw line. This was quite the offensive explosion from the lowest-scoring team in the conference during the regular season.
Alston scored a career-high 33 points to pace the Buckeyes, to go along with nine assists. Craft had her second 20+ point scoring game of the season, finishing with 24, and junior Raven Ferguson, who was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection by the media, chipped in 15 off the bench.
After the high of knocking off the tournament's top seed, Ohio State's run came to a disappointing end on Saturday against the Hawkeyes. The team cooled off from beyond the arc, shooting just 3-16 for the game from distance, and came up just short.
Iowa had four players score at least 16 points, led by Thiaerra Taylor's 21, and got out to an early 12-3 lead, causing the Buckeyes to play catch up all game long. Ohio State fought all the way back, tying the game at 73 with two minutes to play, but would not score again.
"We had several opportunities in the second half where we could have went away, but we kept fighting and we gave ourselves a chance at the end," McGuff said after the game.
Alston once again led the Buckeyes, scoring 20 points. Moore and Ellerbe each had 15 in what was likely their final collegiate game.
Though they fell short, Ohio State has much to be proud of from their showing in Indianapolis. They finish the season a game under .500, at 17-18, and have a lot to build on moving forward.