After a hard-fought victory on the road against Michigan on Thursday evening, the Ohio State women's basketball team faced an even more formidable opponent this weekend: winter storm Jonas. The Buckeyes arrived in Piscataway to take on Rutgers on Friday ahead of the massive snowfall and were snowed into their hotel. Fortunately, the team was able to make the best of things.
As for the game with the Scarlet Knights, there was little resemblance in the first half to the 90-70 victory Ohio State pulled off against them just two weeks ago in Columbus. Rutgers slowed down the pace and prevented the Buckeyes from getting out in transition before halftime, but head coach Kevin McGuff's squad got it going in the third quarter, and had just enough to hold on for the 67-58 win.
The Buckeyes swept the season series with the Scarlet Knights, improving to 15-4 on the season and 7-1 in Big Ten play.
Rutgers came out shooting the ball at a high percentage, getting a pair of early three-pointers from freshman Khadiazha Sanders and sophomore Shrita Parker. Senior Kaleah Copper was also very effective in the post for the Scarlet Knights, who tried to slow the tempo of the game down and take Ohio State out of what it does best.
The Buckeyes closed out the quarter on an 9-3 run, with sophomore Kelsey Mitchell, who missed her first three shots from the floor, dropping five quick points and junior Shayla Cooper getting a pair of layups. The scarlet and gray had a 19-17 advantage after the first ten minutes despite shooting just 25 percent from beyond the arc.
The pace remained slow in the second quarter, with Rutgers grinding out every possession on both ends. The Scarlet Knights entered the game first in the Big Ten in scoring defense, and that held true throughout the first half as Mitchell and senior Ameryst Alston struggled to get open looks.
Copper and senior Rachel Hollivay were able to work the paint for open looks against the smaller Ohio State lineup, and Parker hit a pair from the perimeter for a 26-23 lead midway through the quarter.
Mitchell got loose on back-to-back possessions for three-pointers, though, putting to rest a scoring drought that lasted nearly four minutes for the Buckeyes. The All-American finished the half with 14 points, including 4-for-8 from deep. The 11 points Ohio State scored in the second was the second-fewest of any quarter for the team all season.
Copper scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds for Rutgers, and leading scorer Tyler Scaife had nine of her own. The slower pace helped the Scarlet Knights play Ohio State even, 30-30, through the first half.
Alston, who was just 1-for-6 for three points in the first half, scored seven points early in the third quarter, and Mitchell used a whirling dervish dribble drive for a layup for a 39-30 lead. Rutgers missed its first five shots and went scoreless for over five and a half minutes.
Old-fashioned three-point plays by sophomores Asia Doss and Alexa Hart and another three-pointer from Alston pushed the lead out to 48-32, and forced the Scarlet Knights to play a faster tempo. That led to turnovers and quicker shots, which are not their forte.
The Buckeyes outscored Rutgers 24-7 in the quarter behind 10 points from Alston, and moved to the final quarter with a 54-37 lead.
The Scarlet Knights scored the first five points in the fourth quarter on a three-pointer from senior Briyona Canty and a jumper by Scaife, and employed a tenacious full-court defense to force Ohio State into sloppy play and four quick turnovers.
A layup by Hart with six minutes remaining was the first field goal for the Buckeyes, but a long-range make by Parker cut the lead down to nine, 60-51, at the midway point. But another crazy dribble drive by Mitchell and a beautiful dime from Cooper to Hart for a layup extended the lead back to 64-51.
Rutgers didn't go away, but the deficit was ultimately too great to overcome. The Scarlet Knights were led by Copper's double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Mitchell led all scorers with 22 points, while Alston and Hart each had 15 in the winning effort.
Up next for Ohio State is a rematch against Northwestern, the only Big Ten team to beat the Buckeyes thus far, Thursday night in Columbus. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on BTN.