March is here and that means it is tournament time. The Ohio State women’s basketball team began their defense of their three straight Big Ten Tournament titles by facing Michigan today, the seventh seeded Wolverines had beaten tenth seeded Illinois yesterday while the second seeded Buckeyes had enjoyed a first round bye. Michigan entered this game having won three straight against Ohio State and the Buckeyes were undoubtedly looking for revenge.
The game got off to a slow start but Ohio State managed to build an early 7-2 lead in the first two minutes of the game. Michigan was playing for their NCAA tournament lives and responded with 10 straight points to take a 12-7 lead with thirteen minutes remaining in the half. A 7 to 2 run by the Buckeyes tied the game at 14 but the Wolverines took an 18-16 lead a couple minutes later. OSU responded with 7 unanswered to take a 23-18 lead with three minutes left on the clock. Michigan trimmed that lead to only three and the Buckeyes headed into the locker room with a 25-22 lead.
I’m guessing that Coach Foster reminded the team of their recent struggles with Michigan at halftime because Ohio State came out of the locker room with intensity. The Buckeyes still did not shoot well but they still opened the half on an 11 to 0 run, holding the Wolverines scoreless for almost five and half minutes, as they built a 36-22 lead. The teams traded baskets for a bit before OSU used 6 straight points to expand their lead to 45-29 with just under eleven minutes remaining. Michigan was not done though, responding with a 10 to 0 run that cut the lead to 45-39 just three minutes later and seemed to have swung the momentum entirely in favor of the maize and blue. The scarlet and gray quickly grabbed the momentum back with four straight which pushed the lead back to double digits. Both teams struggled shooting down the stretch but with two minutes on the clock the Wolverines found themselves only down 8, easily within striking distance. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Amber Stokes then showed everyone why she deserved that title with a great hustle play for a huge block on what would have been a Michigan layup and then a big steal less than a minute later that essentially ended the threat from the Wolverines. A pair of free throws by both Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill in the final minute salted away the game, giving Ohio State a 57-48 win.
In addition to the win, the biggest story out of the game was that Samantha Prahalis dished out 5 assists to break the Big Ten career assist record of 892 that had been set by Northwestern’s Nancy Kennelly in 1993, Prahalis now has 894 career assists. Prahalis also added 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals. Tayler Hill led the Buckeyes in scoring with 19 points, 16 of which came in the second half, while grabbing 4 steals. Kalpana Beach added 12 points, 7 boards, and a block while Ashley Adams had 4 points, 6 rebound, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block. Amber Stokes added 4 points but led the team in rebounds with 9 while also coming up with 2 key steals and a block.
Ohio State did not shoot particularly well, going 38% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc but they forced Michigan into taking bad shots and held them to 34% shooting, 28% from outside. The Buckeyes forced 17 turnovers but didn’t take good care of the ball themselves, committing 17 turnovers. A major factor in the game was Ohio State easily winning the rebound battle, 45 to 32. With how the Buckeyes have struggled on the boards this season, it is great to see them do well now that we have entered tournament season.
Today’s win was a huge one for Ohio State against a Michigan team that had won 3 in a row against the Buckeyes. Ohio State got down in an early hole but quickly dug out of it and then withstood an furious second half run by Michigan that threatened to completely turn the momentum of the game. Hill and Stokes really stepped it up in the second half, Hill in terms of scoring and Stokes with her defense. After being held scoreless in the last two games of the season, freshman Kalpana Beach had a good showing in her first Big Ten tournament game, she was OSU’s leading scorer in the first half.
Today’s win was not as pretty as it good have been but a in the tournament it is survive and advance so any win is a good win, the fact that Prahalis set a record and it was a win against Michigan make it even sweeter. I was very happy with the defensive effort from the Buckeyes but they will need to step up their shooting. The Buckeyes return to action tomorrow at 5:00pm when they take on sixth seed Nebraska who destroyed Northwestern in the first round and then pulled away from Iowa today. The Buckeyes and Cornhuskers met in Lincoln this past Sunday in the regular season finale and the game did not go well for OSU. Nebraska seemed to score at will inside and Ohio State looked frustrated by the Cornhusker defense, settling for poor shots and not moving the ball well. OSU did beat Nebraska earlier this year in Columbus and they will need to learn from both of those games in order to win this one. The keys for tomorrow will be whether OSU’s young frontcourt can step up and play better defense and whether the Buckeye offense can move the ball well and find good shots.