The Ohio State women’s basketball team came into Indianapolis having never lost a first round game in the Big Ten tournament.
That trend continued with an impressive 86-77 victory against the No. 9 seed Northwestern Wildcats (15-15, 5-11) Thursday.
The Buckeyes (16-17, 5-11) were once again led by first team All-Big Ten sophomore guard Ameryst Alston, who poured in a game-high 30 points. It was the fourth time she has reached the 30-point mark this season and the second time she has done so against the Wildcats — the other being during a 71-62 victory Feb. 23.
OSU coach Kevin McGuff, whose career record improved to 18-7 in conference tournaments, had plenty of praise to give his star guard.
“She is a really special player and a great kid and she was just so aggressive,” McGuff said in a post-game interview with the Big Ten Network’s Shelley Tills. “She is really hard to contain off the dribble and got to the rim all night.”
Alston, who scored 20 of her 30 points in the second half, said it wasn’t just her doing.
“I have to thank my teammates for that,” Alston said to the Big Ten Network’s Katie Witham on her 30-point performance. “They gave me the ball at the right times and the right places.”
OSU also received two double-double performances from senior center Darryce Moore and senior forward Martina Ellerbe. Moore, despite fouling out, finished one point shy of her career-high as she recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds. Ellerbe tallied a career-high in rebounds, pulling down 13 boards to go along with 16 points.
“Our players stayed relentless,” McGuff said. “We were really aggressive, especially in the second half.”
The Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead before the Wildcats ended the first half on a 16-0 run to take a 39-35 lead into the half, culminated by a buzzer-beating 3-point shot by freshman forward Nia Coffey.
Northwestern coach Jim McKeown said at the half he was happy with the way his team was playing.
“We played better defense, we got out and ran and got better shots,” McKeown said.
The Wildcats had four players score in double-figures, including 17 from Coffey, who also grabbed 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Maggie Lyon recorded a team-high 23 points, on 6-18 shooting for the Wildcats in the loss.
The Buckeyes will now turn their attention to the No. 1-seeded and regular season Big Ten conference champion Penn State Nittany Lions (22-6, 13-3) who defeated OSU in both regular season meetings — outscoring the Buckeyes 140-96 in the two games combined.
Although OSU has not had success against the Nittany Lions this season, McGuff said his team will be ready to go Friday afternoon.
“I am happy we won this one but we are going to quickly turn the page to Penn State,” McGuff said. “They have a great team, they are very well-coached, so we will have to be on our A-game tomorrow, but we are going to show up ready to play.”
In order to pull the upset against Penn State, Alston said the Buckeyes will need to come out with the same intensity they had against the Wildcats.
“We are going to take the energy from this game and take it to the next game,” Alston said. “We have to win the boards and that is what happened today, getting second chance shots.”
“We don’t want to go home.”
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are scheduled for a noon tipoff Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.