If there was any question as to who the heart and soul of Ohio State women's basketball team is, it was answered resoundingly on Saturday at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. With senior Ameryst Alston barely able to play, the Buckeyes were trounced by Michigan State, 82-63, in a game that was essentially over by halftime.
Spartan juniors Aerial Powers and Tori Jankoska combined to score 54 points in the game, while Ohio State sophomore Kelsey Mitchell was limited to 20, half of which came from the free throw line, without her chief running mate. Mitchell failed to convert a field goal in the second half until just a minute remained in the game.
Ohio State now awaits its NCAA tournament fate after losing three of its last four games, including two to Michigan State.
There was good news at the start of the game for the Buckeyes when Alston was in the starting lineup. The Canton McKinley product injured her wrist in the second half of Friday night's quarterfinal game against Rutgers while diving after a loose ball and was a game-time decision.
That was roughly the end of the good news, as the Buckeyes went three minutes before making their first field goal. Mitchell ended the drought with a pair of three-pointers, but was answered by Powers. The Spartans took a 10-6 lead at the midway point in the first quarter and Alston had to exit the game.
Without its second-leading scorer, Ohio State had a tough time getting anything going offensively, shooting just 5-for-16 in the first ten minutes. Powers scored 10 points in the opening frame as Michigan State controlled the pace and took a 18-12 lead after one.
In more bad news, Mitchell picked up her second personal foul just two minutes into the second quarter. Powers scored four more quick points and a three-pointer and transition layup by Jankoska extended the Spartan lead to 27-16 with six minutes remaining in the half.
Jankoska knocked down another triple, Powers stroked an elbow jumper, and Lexi Gussert made a three of her own as a 17-4 run pushed the lead out to 35-18. Alston returned to the game, but it made little impact. Michigan State took a 44-20 lead to the locker room on the back of 19 points from Powers and 10 from Jankoska.
Mitchell, who was smothered by three high defenders in a zone look for much of the half, led the Buckeyes with eight points, but shot just 3-for-9 from the floor. Alston, who averages 19.2 points per game, attempted just one shot and did not look at all like herself.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Mitchell picked up her third and fourth personal fouls, and Jankoska scored nine points in quick succession. Things got out of hand in a hurry as the Spartans extended their lead to 57-30.
Alston did not return to the game, and Michigan State ran away to a 72-36 lead headed to the final quarter. Powers and Jankoska had combined to outscore the entire Ohio State team by ten points.
The fourth quarter was just a matter of the Buckeyes showing a little heart. Shorthanded and beat up, any sign of life would be a good thing, and they responded by not rolling over. Junior Shayla Cooper showed some life in the quarter with a pair of three-pointers and a runner in the lane. The second-team All-Big Ten selection scored 14 of her 16 points for the game in the final frame.
But this was the Spartans day, and they will face Maryland in the tournament championship on Sunday. Ohio State now turns its attention to the NCAA tournament and the health of Alston. Without its heart and soul, the team's March Madness run could prove to be a short one.