Senior night for Minnesota (19-9, 11-6) was upon the No. 5 Ohio State (23-5, 15-2) women’s basketball team as it entered Williams Arena Wednesday night for a late regular-season showdown.
It was a healthy crowd that made its way out to witness a true barnburner at “The Barn,” with the Golden Gophers coming away with the 90-88 upset victory in overtime after a game-winning shot with less than a second remaining.
Right from the tip, the Buckeyes and the Golden Gophers went back and forth. But in the first half, neither squad was able to get efficient offensive production.
Before practice on Tuesday, Buckeye coach Kevin McGuff harped on the fact that his team would have enough time to get used to the elevated floor at Williams Arena, stating how it was still a basketball court with two hoops like all the other arenas that OSU played at this season. It turns out it is easier said than done to get hot at The Barn — even for the home team.
Minnesota presented an extended 2-3 zone to OSU to prevent senior guard Ameryst Alston and sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell from driving to the hoop for their own shots and also penetrate to find open teammates. The zone allowed for OSU to swing the rock and have plenty of open looks from downtown, but Minnesota was willing to take the risk with its strategy.
The gamble on OSU’s 3-point shooting looked genius, as the Buckeyes only shot 1-of-11 from 3-point land in the first 20 minutes of play. That was an unorthodox showing from the Scarlet and Gray, who average 37.8 percent from behind the arc, ranking third in the Big Ten in that category.
However, it wasn’t only the Buckeyes that had problems getting the ball to hit the nylon. Minnesota shot a whopping 26 percent from the field, not only missing long-distance jump shots but also fundamental layups.
Heading into the locker room, Minnesota only trailed OSU by four, and the Golden Gophers did not plan on letting the Buckeyes march away in the second half like others have done in the past, as a potential bid for the NCAA tournament was on the line.
The third quarter began with a quick OSU 6-0 run to give the Buckeyes an 11-point lead, but Golden Gophers redshirt senior guard Rachel Banham took the game into her own hands after a Minnesota timeout.
Averaging 27.5 points per game on the year, scoring over 50 points multiple times and earning recognition on Twitter from NBA legend and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, Banham is all that, and she proved it in the second half against the Big Ten-leading Buckeyes.
The 5-foot-9 Banham had no problem creating space for herself from all areas of the court, giving OSU senior guard and tenacious defender Cait Craft a difficult task of guarding her. Banham would finish the game with 35 points and five assists, including a highlight-reel around-the-back pass to sophomore center Jessie Edwards.
As play continued in the second half, the officials began to get more and more stingy, whistling after nearly every hand-check and touch on both sides of the court.
Craft, who followed Banham up and down the floor the entire night, was forced to exit the game with the five-foul maximum in the fourth quarter.
With 1:10 to play in regulation, Minnesota was holding a 76-74 lead, and the Buckeyes were having a tough time navigating through the Golden Gopher defense. The possession ended up resulting in a shot-clock violation, turning the ball back over to the home team.
The Golden Gophers brought the ball down with confidence, but OSU sophomore guard Asia Doss applied stifling defense, stealing the ball and converting the basket on the other end to tie it up with only 16.7 seconds left on the clock.
Minnesota put the ball in Banham’s hands for the final shot, as she has pulled through in the clutch time and time again for this Golden Gophers squad. After dancing around at the top of the key, Banham made an in-and-out crossover to the left elbow for the go-ahead jump shot, but it was off the mark.
Bouncing off the rim, the ball ended up in Edwards’ hands, who jumped straight up to put the ball through the cylinder to give Golden Gophers a two-point lead and win with the game clock hitting zero.
But then whistles blew; the game was not over.
The officials went to the scorer’s table to review the play, and after looking over the time when the ball made it through the net, they came to the conclusion that the Buckeyes would have 0.5 seconds to try to send the game into overtime or win it with a 3-pointer.
After a Buckeye timeout, Alston set to inbound the ball on the sideline near her own bench. Sophomore forward Alexa Hart looped off of an off-ball screen toward the basket, receiving a lob from Alston and touching it in right before the buzzer sounded.
The referees looked it over and determined it was good. Next up, overtime.
In the extra period, both teams continued to go back and forth, finishing the entire contest with 12 ties and 13 lead changes.
Mitchell, who turned it on in the fourth quarter and overtime period, finishing with 21 points, grabbed her ninth rebound of the night and at the same time drew the foul from Banham, which was her fifth, sending her to the pine for the remainder of the game. Mitchell then hit both foul shots to make the score 86-85 in favor of the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota sophomore guard Carlie Wagner, who finished with 26 points, extended the lead to three points, but then OSU junior forward Shayla Cooper came up big on the other end, answering with a strong old-fashioned 3-point play to tie the score up at 88 with 14.3 seconds left on the clock.
Wagner wanted the last word, coming down on the other end and knocking down a contested jumper in the short corner with less than a second left to give Minnesota a two-point lead.
Once again, the officials would go to the scorer’s box and come back to the floor putting up more time on the clock: 0.8 seconds.
After what happened in regulation, the Golden Gophers were aware that the game really isn’t over until the buzzer sounds, no matter how much time is on the clock.
This time around the Buckeyes, would inbound the ball to Mitchell in the corner, who would not have enough time to get a shot off, giving the Golden Gophers a sigh of relief and a moment of happiness to celebrate senior night in winning fashion.
With their 11-game win streak coming to a close, the Buckeyes will head back to the drawing board and look to finish the regular season on the right foot Saturday versus the Michigan State Spartans.
The game is set to tip at 2 p.m. in East Lansing, Michigan.