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Ohio State women's basketball bows out in Sweet 16 against Tennessee

It wasn't the Buckeyes' night as they fell to the Vols, 78-62

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

A golden opportunity passed by the wayside for Ohio State on Friday night in the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes lost, 78-62, to Tennessee on a night when the top-seed in the Sioux Falls region, South Carolina, was upset by Syracuse.

Despite the loss of leading scorer Diamond DeShields for much of the first half, the Volunteers used a strong paint presence to spring the upset and advance to the Elite Eight. Mercedes Russell scored a career-high 25 points to go along with 14 rebounds, and Bashaara Graves added 14 points and 10 rebounds of her own in the win.

Ohio State got bad news on Tuesday, when senior Cait Craft broke her left hand in practice, keeping her out of the game and ending her career. The Buckeyes' already thin rotation shrunk even more. Guards Ameryst Alston and Kelsey Mitchell, the top-scoring backcourt duo in the country, had 21 and 20 points, respectively, but it wasn't enough.

The game was a contrast in styles, as Tennessee held a distinct size advantage, and dictated the tempo from the very beginning. The Vols pounded the paint behind the strength of Russell and Graves, who scored 18 first quarter points. A 17-3 run made it a 23-10 Tennessee lead by the end of the first quarter, as Ohio State shot 25 percent from the floor and made just 1-of-9 from three-point range.

A 6-0 run to start the second quarter drew the Buckeyes back to within 23-16, but Mitchell had still not scored. The All-American finally got on the board with a pair of free throws three and a half minutes into the quarter that trimmed the lead to 26-19, but the Vols were shooting the lights out.

Mitchell's first field goal was a three-pointer from a few feet beyond the arc, and after Alston got a three of her own, she knocked down another to make it 34-28. Alston and Mitchell combined to score 20 points in the first half to pace the Ohio State attack.

The backcourt duo did all they could, but nearly 61 percent shooting by Tennessee made for a 43-35 halftime advantage. Russell and Graves were a perfect 11-for-11 from the floor, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Russell scored the first four points of the second half as the Vols opened up a double-digit lead. A three from the wing by Alston and a pair of free throws by Mitchell made it a 47-40 game, but it simply was not the Buckeyes' night.

Redshirt freshman Makayla Waterman provided a big boost of energy in what was perhaps her best performance of the season. The Kettering, Ohio native scored 10 points and pulled down five rebounds off the bench in what will hopefully be a sign of things to come in the future.

Russell continued to punish Ohio State in the paint, and freshman guard Te'a Cooper got hot, scoring the ten points for Tennessee as the lead pushed out to 56-42 just past the midpoint of the third quarter. A DeShields triple turned it into a 62-46 game with the Vols continuing to flirt with 60 percent shooting with ten minutes remaining.

In the fourth, DeShields and Russell helped Tennessee press out to a 20-point lead, and nothing the Buckeyes could do seemed to matter. They fought back to make the final score slightly more respectable, but it just wasn't their night.