Every time the Ohio State women’s basketball team tried to pull away from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Sunday, it was met with much frustration. After building leads of 18 points in the first half and 23 in the second half, the Buckeyes watched their advantage dissipate twice.
Lackluster rebounding efforts, 20 turnovers and poor shooting in the paint by No. 5 OSU (12-3, 4-0) allowed Rutgers (11-4, 2-2) to make the match at the Schottenstein Center competitive at times. However, the Buckeyes were able to extend their season-long winning streak to eight games with a 90-78 victory over the Scarlet Knights.
“(I’m) pretty disappointed that we lost some focus and intensity, which allowed Rutgers to make a run there,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said.
That focus and intensity was present from the tip. Immediately, OSU began to press Rutgers, forcing frantic turnovers and three first-quarter blocks. A pair of OSU guards, senior Ameryst Alston and sophomore Kelsey Mitchell, made it count on the other end, opening up a double-digit lead heading into the second quarter
Defensively the Buckeyes continued to dominate in the second period, accumulating four blocks and seven steals that resulted in nine fast-break points in the first half. OSU went into the game wanting to control the pace, and it owned it most of the afternoon.
“I think our pace started to break them down a little bit and we were getting really good shots,” McGuff said.
What helped the up-tempo offense flourish was the plethora of touches that were being passed around each possession. The Scarlet and Gray took their energy to another level near the middle of the second quarter with an 11-2 run that prompted a Rutgers timeout.
Sophomore forward Alexa Hart helped on both ends during the surge, continuing her outstanding play over the winning streak. Hart went into the locker room with nine points, four rebounds and three blocks and finished the game with 15 points and six rebounds.
“I think it was the intensity at the beginning of the game,” Mitchell said of the team’s early success. “I think we put a lot of focus in our 2-2-1 press, and that was effective throughout the game.”
OSU was able to maintain a nine-point advantage heading into halftime largely behind its ability to create turnovers, which has been present over the previous eight games. Teams have been handing over the ball 16.9 times per game to the Buckeyes during the eight-game span.
But once up by 18 with five minutes to go in the half, OSU eased up and needed to come out strong to start the second half.
“I think they got a lot of open shots, especially on how we rotate as far as our press and getting back in half court,” Mitchell said. “Over the course of the game they got comfortable with how we were pressing.”
Mitchell and Hart once again provided the spark that the Buckeyes needed to rebuild their once-comfortable lead over the Scarlet Knights. The duo combined for 18 of the team’s 28 points in the third quarter. Mitchell finished the afternoon shooting 9-of-15 from the field, accumulating 28 points, six assists and three steals.
Subsequently the Buckeyes could not miss in the third quarter, shooting 11-of-13 from the field as a team. Mitchell started to catch fire, and the rest of the team joined in. The sophomore guard brought life to the offense in the second half, shooting 5-of-6 from the field and scoring 16 points over the final two periods.
“I think getting the ball out and pushing as fast as we can, pushing up the floor and passing up the floor, I think it has helped us and shaped our chemistry,” Mitchell said.
Behind guard Tyler Scaife, though, Rutgers was able to cut the lead to 10 with almost five minutes remaining in the contest. Scaife scored 12 of her 27 points in the fourth quarter, but a balanced OSU attack helped the Buckeyes secure a win at home.
“We’ve done some very good things here recently, but I still think there are a lot of areas where we can continue to grow: our defense, our rebounding, our pace,” McGuff said.
After playing five of their past six games at the Schott, the Buckeyes are set to travel to Evanston, Illinois, to play No. 16 Northwestern (12-4). Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on Thursday.