There was no threat of a cinderella showing up in Columbus on Friday, as the Ohio State women's basketball team breezed through its first game in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes defeated Buffalo, 88-69, at St. John Arena.
Sophomore All-America candidate Kelsey Mitchell did Kelsey Mitchell things, scoring 27 points and dishing out six assists to lead an Ohio State team that was without senior co-captain Ameryst Alston.
Alston, who suffered a right wrist injury in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals against Rutgers, was in uniform but did not play. It is hoped that the fourth-leading scorer in program history will be available on Sunday when the Buckeyes take on 6th-seeded West Virginia.
In addition to Mitchell, the pair of junior Shayla Cooper and sophomore Asia Doss stepped up in Alston's absence. Cooper contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, while Doss added 16 points, eight boards, and five assists.
In a losing effort, All-MAC guard Joanna Smith scored 23 points.
Buffalo came out fired up early, jumping to a quick 7-2 lead. Smith knocked down her first three-point attempt and center Cassie Oursler got two quick buckets.
While Mitchell, fourth in the country in scoring, started the game off 0-for-6 from the floor, the four other starters all scored to trim the lead to 11-8 at the midway point of the first quarter. Doss helped pick up the slack for Alston, knocking down back to back threes to propel Ohio State to a 14-11 lead. The Detroit native scored nine points in the first ten minutes, and the home team never looked back.
Mitchell got her first points of the game with 2:42 remaining in the quarter. A deep three from the top of the arc capped a 12-0 run in just a minute and a half for a 20-11 advantage. The Cincinnati product then banked a runner, splashed another triple, got a transition layup, and knocked down one last three. The rout was officially on.
The Buckeyes finished the quarter on a 22-1 run for a 30-12 lead, shooting over 50 percent from the field, blocking six shots, and forcing six Buffalo turnovers. Mitchell overcame her slow start to lead all scorers with 13 points.
In the second quarter, the Bulls ended a 9-minute scoring drought from the field, scoring eight of the first ten points. Smith knocked down another three, as did freshman Courtney Wilkins.Four straight points by Cooper, a layup on a beautiful dime from Mitchell to junior Kalpana Beach, and a three from Cooper set the lead at 39-20 midway through.
Buffalo again closed the quarter ice cold, going four and a half minutes without a bucket, as the Buckeyes went to the locker room with a 48-23 lead. Mitchell led all scorers with 17 points, while Cooper added 11 and Doss 10. Smith led the Bulls with 11 points of her own.
Buffalo's struggles on the offensive end continued into the second half, as they went over four minutes without scoring a point. By the five-minute mark of the third quarter, Doss, Cooper, and sophomore Alexa Hart had powered Ohio State out to a 59-28 lead.
While the scarlet and gray continued to shoot over 50 percent from the floor, Buffalo saw its percentage dip below 25 percent. But Smith kept playing hard despite the deficit, outscoring the rest of her teammates. The Mississippi native had 23 of the Bulls' 44 points after three quarters. Mitchell's 24 paced the Buckeyes to a 70-44 lead headed to the final ten minutes.
The Bulls actually won the fourth quarter, 25-18, but it mattered little in the final outcome. Mitchell made one last triple before exiting the game with just over two minutes remaining, as Ohio State shot better than 52 percent for the game.
The Buckeyes move on to play West Virginia in the round of 32 on Sunday. The program is 12-0 all-time against the Mountaineers.