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Women’s basketball: Mitchell’s struggles lead to Buckeyes’ Big Ten tournament exit

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Ohio State junior guard Kelsey Mitchell (3) facilitates the offense against Purdue during the Boilermakers’ 71-60 win against the Buckeyes at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 4. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Sports Director

INDIANAPOLIS — As Ohio State junior guard Kelsey Mitchell goes, so goes the Buckeyes’ women’s basketball team. And the only place Mitchell and her team are going after Saturday afternoon’s game is home.

On Friday, against Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, Mitchell led both teams with 27 points en route to a dominant 99-68 OSU victory.

But in the following day’s game against Purdue, nothing went right for the Big Ten player of the year. Mitchell scored just nine points as she made 3 of 22 shots and just a single of her 12 3-point attempts, and OSU lost 71-60.

“She didn’t have a good game,” said OSU coach Kevin McGuff. “She’s a spectacular player, one of the very best in college basketball, and tonight wasn’t her night.”

The Buckeyes could not overcome their star’s struggles, as Purdue pulled off the 71-60 upset win, which knocked OSU out of the tournament and sent the Boilermakers to the final.

The season low for the guard who averages 23.5 points per game picked up her second-lowest scoring total as a Buckeye, coming within a point of tying her career low of eight, set in 2015.

The Boilermakers keyed in on the left-handed OSU guard’s proclivity to dribble to her dominant hand side.

“We wanted to make her play on the right side of the floor,” said Purdue senior guard Ashley Morrissette. “They ran a couple plays where she got looks on the left side of the floor. But I thought, as a team, we did a great job of defending her.”

This isn’t the first time the Boilermakers’ defense shut down Mitchell. In January, Purdue used a 1-2-2 zone defense to smother Mitchell, holding her to 14 points and making just 3-of-17 shots.

But on Saturday, Purdue implemented a 2-3 zone defense. Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said the change was made due to OSU more frequently utilizing a two-guard lineup.

“They executed and they trusted it and said, ‘Hey, let everybody else shoot the outside shot and just corrall her,” said Purdue coach Sharon Versyp.

Versyp and Morrissette each noted the importance Purdue placed on surrounding Mitchell with two players at all times to keep her off balance.

As a team, the Buckeyes shot just 34 percent from the field and made just 3 of 23 3-point attempts. OSU even struggled at the free throw line, with the Buckeyes making 7 of 15 from the charity stripe.

“Once they got a lead, we seemed to get out of doing the things that we’ve done all year and (it) allowed us to be very efficient on offense,” McGuff said. “We were rushing shots and taking quick, contested shots instead of showing a little more patience and a little more trust in the execution.”

In her six previous Big Ten tournament games, Mitchell averaged 29.8 points per game on 49 percent shooting.

McGuff assuredly stated after Mitchell’s disappointing performance that no one is more likely to bounce back with authority than the OSU guard.

“No one’s going to work harder, no one’s going to be in the gym more than she will,” McGuff said. “She’s going to make sure that her having an off night doesn’t happen again this year. I can assure you of that.”

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