Starting the season off on the road is always tough. Doubly so when you find yourself in the house of the No. 2 team in the country, as Ohio State did on Friday night. Taking on South Carolina, fresh off a Final Four appearance last spring, the Buckeyes showed plenty of fight, but ultimately fell short, 88-80.
A sluggish start found head coach Kevin McGuff's squad down 25-10 after just six and a half minutes of the first quarter. Senior guards Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions fueled the early surge for the Gamecocks, combining for 15 of those 25 points.
Ohio State fought back thanks to deadeye three-point shooting, ending the first frame on a 16-5 run, and finding itself down just 30-26. The backcourt tandem of sophomore Kelsey Mitchell and senior Ameryst Alston combined for 18 first quarter points.
McGuff's defense stepped up in the second quarter, holding South Carolina to just four made field goals, while the offense remained hot from the perimeter, and roared back to take a 47-45 lead into the locker room. Alston had 16 points at the half, while Mitchell added 15. Junior center Alaina Coates led head coach Dawn Staley's team with 11 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Mitchell carried her hot start on the offensive end over to the second half, scoring Ohio State's first six points after the intermission, helping to bump the lead to six at 53-47. The defense also kept up the pressure, as South Carolina went without a field goal for the first four and a half minutes. The Gamecocks finished the quarter on an 8-2 run, though, and led 64-62 after three.
South Carolina's veteran experience showed itself in the final quarter, though, as the Buckeyes struggled to knock down shots. Coates and sophomore A'ja Wilson outscored Ohio State 16-8 over the final five minutes of the game, dropping all of their team's points, and the Gamecocks outlasted the upset bid, escaping with an 88-80 victory.
Three things we learned
1) Mitchell and Alston are going to be a really fun duo to watch
Ohio State's starting backcourt combined to average nearly 45 points per game a season ago, and they might be even better this year. With 36 from Mitchell and 23 from Alston against South Carolina, coming in a variety of ways, the All-Big Ten tandem showed why they may just be the most feared scoring duo in the country.
2) When Ohio State is hot from deep, they're scary good
The Buckeyes were on fire from beyond the three-point line in the first half, knocking down 7-11 (63.6 percent). The team cooled off after halftime, making just 3-12 (25 percent), which contributed to falling short on the road. But Alston, Mitchell, sophomore Asia Doss, and redshirt freshman Kianna Holland all showed in the first half why this team can be so dangerous when its shots are falling.
3) This team can hang with anyone
South Carolina is a veteran team that played in the Final Four a season ago, and entirely deserving of the No. 2 ranking in the country. And Ohio State stood toe-to-toe with them, even after falling behind big in the first quarter. Though there is no such thing as a moral victory, the Buckeyes proved that all of the preseason hype was well-founded. And they'll have another opportunity to show it against a national powerhouse in game number two against top-ranked Connecticut on Monday night.