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Frontcourt provides relief in Ohio State women’s basketball’s 97-70 win

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OSU forward Alexa Hart (22) looks for space around defending Virginia Cavaliers forward Sydney Umeri (44) on Dec. 21 at the Schottenstein Center. Photo Credit: Greg Bartram | USA TODAY Sports

OSU forward Alexa Hart (22) looks for space around defending Virginia Cavaliers forward Sydney Umeri (44) on Dec. 21 at the Schottenstein Center. Photo Credit: Greg Bartram | USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State women’s basketball team has relied heavily on the explosiveness of the nation’s top-scoring duo during the 2015-16 season.

That wasn’t the case Thursday evening at the Schottenstein Center against the Indiana Hoosiers.

Top Buckeye guards, sophomore Kelsey Mitchell and senior Ameryst Alston, were held in check early on in Columbus, prompting the OSU frontcourt to come alive. The extra effort was definitely needed for the No. 5 Buckeyes (11-3, 3-0) to fend off Indiana (9-6, 1-2) at home, 97-70.

“They came out ready to play right off the jump,” OSU junior forward Shayla Cooper said. “We had to match their intensity, and once we matched it we actually took it to another level after that.”

The Buckeyes have struggled immensely with their perimeter defense this season, ranking dead last amongst Big Ten teams in 3-point defense. A lack of outside pressure has allowed teams to attack OSU with an onslaught of long-range jumpers from the tip.

Matters were no better on Wednesday when Indiana opened up the first quarter of play shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

“I think putting more pressure on the ball, not letting them see the open man,” Cooper said of the team’s solution to Indiana’s hot start.

Multiple missed layup opportunities also stymied OSU from overcoming Indiana. However, OSU sophomore Alexa Hart and Cooper continued to work the interior, sparking a 10-3 run that knotted the contest at 18 after one quarter of play. Hart registered a double-double on the night, scoring 18 points and collecting 13 rebounds.

Despite breaking out of an early shooting slump, the Buckeyes still could not entirely pull away from the Hoosiers. That’s because OSU’s elite scorers Mitchell and Alston continued to be held in check by Indiana, combining to shoot 4-of-18 from the field in the first half.

“The way (Indiana) came out, the way they shot the ball, I think that prevented us from doing things that we usually do,” Mitchell said.

Nevertheless, OSU’s presence in the post continued to eat away at Indiana. Cooper provided a 14-point first-half spark off the bench, leading a Buckeye frontcourt that outscored the Hoosiers 32-18 in the paint over the first 20 minutes. Cooper finished the night shooting 10-of-16 from the field, tallying 23 points and eight rebounds.

“I like the energy and it gives us a different look when she comes in,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said of moving Cooper to the bench.

The Scarlet and Gray brought a 40-35 advantage into halftime and built some early momentum after the break. OSU’s first 3-point conversion two minutes into the second half from Mitchell brought the Buckeyes’ lead to seven and led to an Indiana timeout.

Mitchell, who finished with 23 points on the night, led the team with 15 points in the third quarter on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field, opening up a 12-point lead heading into the final quarter.

“Sometimes when you’re not sure about yourself and you have a slow start it can wear on you,” McGuff said. “But I do think we have a lot of confidence about how we’re playing.”

OSU continued to pull away via not letting up on the Hoosiers, sustaining an aggressive and pesky press on defense. That tenacity brought the team’s turnover margin to a plus-10 mark by the game’s end, and helped the Buckeyes finish with 16 points off of turnovers and 23 offensive rebounds.

The Buckeyes will continue their Big Ten schedule with a matchup against Rutgers (10-4) on Sunday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.

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