After facing a brutal non-conference schedule and enduring a ten-day layoff between games, the Ohio State women's basketball team was finally back on the court on Thursday afternoon in Columbus. The 9th-ranked Buckeyes came back for a hard-fought win in the Big Ten opener against No. 24 Michigan State, 85-80.
"I was really proud of our team," head coach Kevin McGuff said after the game. "We played such a tough nonconference schedule and we developed some toughness during that, and that showed today down the stretch."
Sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell capped off a record-breaking 2015 with 25 points, despite one of her worst shooting performances in scarlet and gray. The Cincinnati native shot just 6-of-22 from the floor, including 0-for-10 from three-point range, but came up big in the fourth quarter. Mitchell's backcourt mate, senior Ameryst Alston, picked up the shooting slack, scoring 23 of her own and carrying the team in the first half.
Late in the contest, Buckeyes senior Cait Craft, the sister of former Ohio State men's basketball star Aaron, drew a big time charge which helped OSU clinch the victory:
The first quarter started ugly, as both teams struggled with their shooting and ball security. Michigan State turned the ball over nine times, but beat Ohio State on the glass, grabbing six offensive boards. Senior Jasmine Hines led the Spartans with seven points, while Mitchell, sophomore Asia Doss, and junior forward Shayla Cooper sparked an 16-5 run for the Buckeyes to close out the first ten minutes with a 22-12 lead.
The turnovers continued for Michigan State in the second quarter, with miscues on three of its first five possessions. Doss continued her strong play, knocking down an early three-pointer and assisting on an Alexa Hart layup. Sophomore guard Morgan Green helped keep the Spartans in the game, though, scoring five straight points to trim the lead to 29-21.
Mitchell struggled with her shot from the perimeter throughout the first half, missing her six three-point attempts and 9-of-11 shots overall. Junior forward Aerial Powers scored eight points to bring Michigan State within three, 34-31, and a long-range make by senior guard Tori Jankoska tied things up.
In the final two minutes of the half, Alston took over, scoring five of her half-high 15 points to give the Buckeyes a 42-36 lead.
Three-point shooting was the story of the third quarter, as Michigan State got hot and Ohio State continued to struggle. Powers, Jankoska, and sophomore Branndais Agee all connected from long-range, drawing the Spartans back to within one at 46-45, and a Powers put-back put them on top, 47-46, midway through the quarter.
After making their first two shots of the second half, Ohio State missed seven consecutive from the floor and finished the third quarter just 5-of-13 overall. A key steal by senior Cait Craft that led to an Alston layup with 23 seconds remaining helped trim Michigan State's advantage to 58-56 headed to the final frame.
Mitchell began attacking the hoop and getting to the free throw line in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points down the stretch, but Agee and Hines came up big, combining for 12 points of their own to give the Spartans a 77-75 lead with two minutes remaining.
Powers, who finished with 23 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, did all she could to will Michigan State to the win, but a key offensive rebound and put-back by Doss and four ice-water-in-the-veins free throw makes by Mitchell in the final minute were just enough to put Ohio State over the top.
Up next, Ohio State travels to College Park on Saturday to take on sixth-ranked Maryland. The game will tip-off at noon and be televised nationally on CBS.