After a thirteen-day layoff, the Ohio State women’s basketball team was finally back on the court on Friday afternoon, taking on Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Lexington. The Buckeyes looked out of sync after that time off, but had just enough to hold on for a 70-63 win.
Ohio State, which had a 12-game winning streak snapped by Purdue in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on February 3rd, improved to 27-6 and moves on to play host Kentucky, which scraped by Belmont in the early game at Memorial Coliseum, in the second round.
Kelsey Mitchell, coming off arguably the worst performance of her career in the loss to the Boilermakers, a game in which she scored just nine points on 3-for-22 shooting, saw her struggles continue. The Big Ten Player of the Year scored a tough 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
The Buckeyes would have been completely lost if not for Asia Doss, who scored a season-high 15 points. Doss, who moved to the bench midway through the season after starting her first two years, hit 3-for-4 from three-point range and contributed six assists, a steal, and a block.
Tori McCoy was also in double figures, scoring 12 points, pulling down three rebounds, and blocking four shots.
Ohio State turned the ball over 17 times in the game, and had trouble with its spacing offensively. But holding WKU to 29 percent shooting was just enough to survive and advance.
The rust for both sides was apparent early on, as they combined to make just two of the first 11 shot attempts and turned the ball over five times through two and a half minutes of play. Three-point shooting began to kick in, though, as Doss hit a pair for the Buckeyes and Goodin-Rogers matched her. By the midway point in the first quarter the score was tied 8-8.
Nearly two minutes went by after that without either team scoring, but then a flurry of points ensued. WKU got threes from Micah Jones and Sidnee Bopp, while Ohio State had Shayla Cooper hit a layup and Kiara Lewis connect from deep. Kendall Noble followed with a jumper for the Hilltoppers, but Lewis completed an and-one, Doss stole the ball for an easy layup, and Tori McCoy got a bucket in the paint after another turnover to finish the frame on a 7-0 run for a 21-18 lead.
The Buckeyes started slowly in the second quarter as well, managing just one point on a McCoy free throw in the first nearly five minutes. But the Western Kentucky managed to score just three points in that time, and the score sat at 22-21 for nearly three whole minutes. After a pair of free throw makes by Tashia Brown gave the Hilltoppers the momentary lead, Doss scored her 10th point of the half on a layup, giving Ohio State a one-point lead at the media timeout.
The remainder of the quarter was similarly ugly, with neither team able to find any rhythm or flow offensively. The Buckeyes turned the ball over five times in the period, giving them 11 in the opening twenty minutes, and were it not for Doss and Alexa Hart, who scored four points and played physical, rim-protecting defense, WKU would’ve had a chance of running away with things.
Mitchell got her first field goal of the half, a deep triple from the top of the key, with under a minute to go, and a steal by Doss off the full-court press led to an easy layup for Linnae Harper gave Ohio State a 37-30 lead heading into the locker room.
The Hilltoppers were led by Goodin-Rogers’ eight points, while Noble added seven, but turned it over 10 times themselves and shot a paltry 29 percent from the floor. Lewis, with six points, and McCoy, with five, were the only Buckeyes outside of Doss and Hart to make more than one shot.
The theme of ice-cold starts continued for Ohio State after halftime, as the team went scoreless for the first 3:15 of the third quarter. Once again, though WKU couldn’t capitalize, getting just two buckets from Noble in that time. A McCoy layup ended the drought, a putback on an offensive rebound by Hart, and another three-pointer from Doss gave the Buckeyes their largest lead, 44-34, at the media timeout.
After a second three-point make of the game by Bopp, another two minutes elapsed without any points. Mitchell ended that with a tough leaner in the lane on which she was fouled, and after completing the traditional three-point play, Ohio State was up 47-37. To close out the quarter, she splashed her second from long range, but Noble answered right back with one of her own, making it a seven-point game, 50-43, headed to the final ten minutes.
A nice dime by Doss to Hart for a layup got the fourth quarter started, but it would be another two minutes before the Buckeyes scored again. When they did, though, they went on an 8-1 run, spurred by two Cooper jumpers and a Mitchell driving layup, taking a 60-46 lead with just under six minutes to play.
Mitchell found herself wide open on the right elbow with four and half to play, keeping the lead comfortable, and a McCoy layup kept it there with three minutes left. The Hilltoppers wouldn’t go away, scoring six straight to trim the lead back to nine, but Sierra Calhoun knocked a three-pointer, her first made shot of the game, to all but seal the victory.
Brown hit a three with 25 seconds remaining that made it a 69-63 game, but Western Kentucky’s comeback attempt fell just short. A Doss free throw pushed things back out to a three-possession lead with under 20 seconds, and Ohio State held on.
Up next is a matchup with Kentucky on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. The game is scheduled to be broadcast live on ESPN2, though a tip-off time has yet to be determined.