In a game when sophomore Kelsey Mitchell was held to just one point in the first half, the Ohio State women's basketball team found themselves in a fight at home against Northwestern. Mitchell, who averages better 25 points per game, exploded after halftime for 26 points to lead the Buckeyes to a 76-73 victory over the only team to have beaten them in Big Ten play.
"She's such a great player that, when things don't go perfectly, we wonder why," head coach Kevin McGuff said of Mitchell after the game. "But she's a tough kid, she hung in there, and made some huge plays down the stretch."
Ohio State, ranked No. 7 in the country, improved to 16-4 on the season, and 8-1 in Big Ten play.
The Buckeyes found themselves playing from behind after the first quarter. Northwestern knocked down four three-pointers in the game's first ten minutes, including two by junior Christen Inman. Fellow junior Nia Coffey scored eight points, spurring the Wildcats to an 18-13 lead.
Ohio State scored just five points in the final five minutes of the quarter, and Mitchell, the second-leading scorer in the nation, was held scoreless. Senior Ameryst Alston, who scored five first quarter points, moved into sixth place on the program's all-time scoring list.
A 7-3 run by the Buckeyes to open the second quarter cut the deficit to one, 21-20, punctuated by a long distance make from senior Cait Craft, but Northwestern did not wilt. Inman, Coffey, and freshman Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah scored eight straight points to push the lead back out to 32-26.
Another Craft triple and a Mitchell free throw, her first point of the game, made for a four-point halftime deficit, 34-30. Alston scored nine first half points to lead Ohio State, while Coffey led all scorers with 13.
The ballgame was tied up at 34 in the first minute and a half of the third quarter thanks to a pair of Mitchell free throws and a breakaway layup by Alston. Sophomore Alexa Hart scored on a putback off an offensive rebound the next possession to give the Buckeyes their first lead since early in the first quarter, 36-34.
Mitchell finally got her first field goal of the game on a transition layup with 6:31 remaining in the quarter to cap an 8-0 Ohio State run. After the Wildcats finally ended a four minute scoring drought on a layup by junior Ashley Deary, Mitchell came back down the court and knocked down a deep three. Craft then made her third three-pointer of the game for a 43-38 lead.
Northwestern then went on a 14-0 run to reclaim the lead, 52-43. Coffey and senior Maggie Lyon both splashed three-pointers as the Buckeyes missed four consecutive shots and turned it over four times.
Hart finished a three-point play and Mitchell knocked down a corner three and was fouled for a four-point play as Ohio State finished the third quarter trailing 54-50. Mitchell, who missed her first eight shots from the floor, scored 10 points in the frame.
Mitchell started the fourth quarter with two more from beyond the arc for a 58-57 lead, but the Wildcats again came roaring back. Lyon and Inman scored six straight points to put Northwestern up by five.
A three-point play on a dribble drive by Craft and yet another three-pointer by Mitchell kept the seesaw going, as the Buckeyes took a 64-63 lead.
A 7-0 run for Ohio State inside the game's final two minutes pushed the lead to 73-67, and the Buckeyes were able to hold on by their fingernails, with Mitchell icing the game with a pair of free throws.
Ohio State travels to Champaign for a matchup with Illinois on Monday. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will air on BTN.