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Alexa Hart’s huge night helps No. 7 Ohio State women’s basketball hold off Illinois

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OSU sophomore forward Alexa Hart (22) attempts a shot during a game against Rutgers on Jan. 10 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

OSU sophomore forward Alexa Hart (22) attempts a shot during a game against Rutgers on Jan. 10 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

When two of the top 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten face off, expect a slew of conversions from deep. That is exactly what was displayed at the State Farm Center as Illinois (8-13, 1-9) hosted No. 7 Ohio State (17-4, 9-1).

Last year Illinois pulled an upset on OSU in Champaign, Illinois, defeating the Buckeyes 66-55. On Monday, was a different result, as the Buckeyes continued their winning streak, extending it to five games in a 80-70 victory over the Fighting Illini.

At first, the high-octane offense of the Buckeyes looked as if it was going to be too much for Illinois, as OSU quickly picked up the first five points of the game. But after taking an early timeout, Illinois came to the realization that it can hang with OSU.

The Fighting Illini has a roster full of shooters, and they were not timid in letting the rock fly from behind the arc. Ranking third in the Big Ten in 3-point field goals by shooting an average of 7.5 trey balls per game, right behind the Buckeyes 7.6 per game, it is one is one of the areas that Illinois needed to do well to have a chance against OSU.

Sophomore guard Brooke Kissinger was one of those shooters, as she knocked down a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter, giving her team a one-point cushion going into the second period. She ended up finishing the first half shooting 4-of-6 from behind the arc, as the Buckeyes had a hard time stopping the guard from Minden, Nebraska.

When Kissinger wasn’t the one knocking down threes, it was the sophomore center and Kissinger’s fellow Nebraska native Chatrice White showing that she can score in the paint as well as the perimeter. White finished the first half with 16 points, leading all scorers at the break and shooting 4-of-5 from 3-point land.

Later in the second quarter, OSU created buckets on the fast break, taking advantage of Illinois’ eight first-half turnovers. Sophomore forward Alexa Hart led the way for the Scarlet and Gray by scoring a quiet 14 points in in the first 20 minutes, while also grabbing eight rebounds.

With junior forward Shayla Cooper absent from the lineup due to a coach’s decision, Hart needed to take over the Buckeyes’ inside presence.

“She was clearly effective scoring the ball, she had 18 points,” coach Kevin McGuff said after the game. “Probably more importantly, her eight blocks.”

Hart finished the game with her second straight double-double, notching 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. With eight shots swatted, she was close, but no cigar, to picking up a triple-double.

Cooper being out also meant that there would be more dependence on the scoring of sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell and senior guard Ameryst Alston. As usual, the Buckeye backcourt was able to rise to the challenge as Mitchell finished the half with 13 points and three assists, and Alston had 11 points and four assists.

Playing against a formerly 1-8, now 1-9, Big Ten team, a 49-41 score going into the locker room was too close for comfort for the Buckeyes, and the contest got tighter at the start of the second half.

The Fighting Illini cut the lead to three points at the start of the third quarter, going on an 8-2 run and eventually taking a lead at the five-minute mark. Illinois’ second half surge was led by White, who finished the game with 26 points to lead all scorers, and added 10 rebounds.

After Illinois took the lead, the Buckeyes looked to the senior leadership of Alston to shift the momentum their way, and with her poise and composure she was able to do just that.

“(Alston) just has a calming presence,” McGuff said. “She knows what we’re trying to accomplish so she makes the extra pass, she makes people are in the right spot doing the right things. She has a lot of experience and I think it shows in those moments.”

The last 10 minutes were dominated by the Buckeyes, as they attacked the basket with authority, shying away from the 3-point contest they were originally taking part in with the Fighting Illini. When OSU didn’t settle for the long jumper, it had a lot more success on the offensive end, and ultimately achieved a double-digit lead to get the win.

Alston led OSU in scoring, finishing the game with 24 points and shooting an impressive 12-of-12 from the charity stripe. Monday’s showing was the 11th time that Alston was able to surpass the 20-point barrier this season. Even with the third leading scorer in the nation on her team in Mitchell, Alston has still been able to find her own shots.

Mitchell finished with 22 points, finishing right behind Alston on the scoring sheet.

OSU is next scheduled to travel back to Columbus to host Wisconsin (6-14, 2-8) at the Schottenstein Center, looking to keep its winning streak intact. The game is set to tip off at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

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