In an early season battle between No. 8 Ohio State and No. 11 Syracuse, the Buckeyes edged the Orange 77-72 Saturday night in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.
Ohio State may have found its heir apparent running mate for Kelsey Mitchell after Ameryst Alston’s graduation at the end of last season, as Sierra Calhoun broke out for the second time in the past three games. The Duke transfer scored 19 in the game to go along with seven rebounds, and seems to have found her niche within the offense.
Mitchell led the Buckeyes with 24 points, and hit another milestone in her career, eclipsing the 1,900-point mark in just a shade over two seasons.
It was the second straight hard-fought win for the scarlet and gray, who improved to 5-1 in the young season and will face Baylor, the fifth-ranked team in the country, in the tournament’s final on Sunday night.
The early story was the three-point shooting of Syracuse, which knocked down five in the first quarter, and the full-court pressure of the Orange, which caused five Ohio State turnovers in the first ten minutes.
Mitchell went 4-for-8 in the frame, scoring 10 of the Buckeyes’ points, and Syracuse went cold late in the quarter, making just two of their final 11 shot attempts, as the two sides finished the period tied 18-18. The Buckeyes held the Orange to just 25 percent shooting, but were outrebounded 18-10.
A 7-0 run sparked by Calhoun and Kiara Lewis staked Ohio State to a 34-27 lead midway through the second quarter, and a late spurt of 17-7 extended it, with the Buckeyes going to the locker room up 44-34.
The Buckeyes got 12 from Mitchell in the half to lead all scorers, and 11 from Calhoun, shooting 51.4 percent from the floor as a team while holding Syracuse to just 30 percent. Alexis Peterson had 10 to lead the Orange, while Briana Day added nine points and six rebounds.
Ohio State stretched the lead 15 points early in the third quarter, but a 2-for-12 span allowed Syracuse all the way back into a tie game, 58-58, with under two minutes to go in the period. Calhoun scored 10 in the frame, but Mitchell was held to just a pair of free throws, and with one quarter to go, the Buckeyes held a 60-58 lead.
The Orange took their first lead since the first quarter at 62-60, but Mitchell broke the 1,900 career point mark with a deep three to put Ohio State back on top, and then followed that up with another to push the lead back out to 66-62.
It was push and shove the rest of the way, but Mitchell hit a ridiculous runner falling out of bounds and a pair of free throws in the final minute and a half to get the Buckeyes, barely, to the finish line on the right side of the scoreboard.
Peterson finished with 29 for Syracuse in the loss, and Brittney Sykes had 16 to go along with 11 rebounds.
Ohio State will now play in the tournament’s championship game on Sunday against the Bears from Waco, Texas. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET at Germain Arena.