INDIANAPOLIS — Coming into the Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the Big Ten tournament on a two-game losing streak, No. 9 Ohio State (24-6, 15-3) wasn’t looking to take 10th-seeded Rutgers (18-14, 8-10) lightly.
OSU sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell took matters into her own hands, dropping 43 points to break a Big Ten tournament record for single-game scoring and directing the Buckeyes to a 73-58 victory over the Scarlet Knights in the quarterfinals.
Mitchell has scored 91 points in her last two games, pushing herself to No. 11 on OSU’s all-time scoring list by tallying 1,650 points in mere two-year career.
Although it seemed as though Mitchell could do no wrong, OSU had a difficult time getting shots to fall from the tip.
“Coach (Kevin) McGuff just put the emphasis on we were a little too anxious,” Mitchell said. “Getting a lot of quick shots and just trying to rush the ball a bit more.”
The Buckeyes had one of their most sluggish shooting performances of the season in the first half, going 10-of-33 from the field and finishing the first 20 minutes of play with only 26 points. All but eight of those first-half points came from the fingertips of Mitchell.
Friday night’s first-half outing was OSU’s second-lowest scoring performance in a first half this season, with its low being 24 points against No. 1 Connecticut at the beginning of the season.
Like the Buckeyes, the Scarlet Knights weren’t able to get offensive production from all five players on the court. Instead, senior forward Kahleah Cooper and junior guard Tyler Scaife anchored the Scarlet Knight offense.
Scaife utilized her quickness to get to the rim, ending the half with 16 points, while Copper put her power in the paint to good use to chip in 13.
Playing catch-up after a slow start in the first half is not a situation that the Buckeyes would consider foreign, but now, in a playoff environment, there was a bit more urgency for the Scarlet and Gray.
“Well, the thing we talked about is just getting more balance in our offense,” McGuff said.
“We ran more set plays to get drives and get the ball into the paint, either off a pass or off the dribble, and just so we wouldn’t settle for so many threes.”
OSU was able to get its first lead of the game at the 7:15 mark after a 3-pointer from Mitchell. After the deep ball, the Buckeyes were able to regain the confidence and swagger that they were searching for. They did not look back for the rest of the game — kind of.
The positive feelings of the second half came to a screeching halt when an injury left OSU holding its breath. Senior guard Ameryst Alston crashed into a few Scarlet Knights players in an attempt to grab a loose ball and injured her wrist on the ground, leaving the Buckeye fans in attendance in shock.
The collision would send Alston to the locker room early, ending her night with 12 points. She later returned to the bench in the waning seconds with an ice bag resting on her wrist.
“Yeah, she came down,” McGuff said. “I think she sprained maybe her wrist. But I don’t have much more than that. I just had a quick update, that was it.”
OSU is set to continue its journey through the Big Ten tournament Saturday evening approximately 30 minutes following the semifinal matchup between Maryland and Northwestern, which is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
The Buckeyes are slated to face third-seeded Michigan State with a spot to get to the championship game on Sunday night at 7 p.m. on the line. The Spartans beat OSU in triple overtime in the regular-season finale last Saturday.