The day has finally arrived, the start of college basketball season and the Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball teams were scheduled to get the season off to a proper start by playing in the Carrier Classic in Charleston, South Carolina. While the men’s game was cancelled due to water, the women’s game went on with the 19th ranked OSU women’s team facing 7th ranked Notre Dame. The Irish were led by star point guard Skylar Diggins and come into this season looking to finally reach the top after losing in the NCAA tournament championship game the past two seasons.
As expected, playing the game outdoors had an impact on the shooting, likely due to a combination of the wind, lack of a good background behind the basket, and a very bright sun that was clearly making it hard for the players to see at times. Notre Dame got out to the lead first, going up 5-2 four minutes into the game but Ohio State quickly cut that lead to 7-6 over the next minute. After a pair of baskets by the Irish, the Buckeyes scored six straight points to take their first lead of the game, 12-11 with nine minutes remaining in the half. The Irish quickly retook the lead on a pair of free throws by Skylar Diggins and then extended that lead before a three-pointer by Tayler Hill, the first made shot from beyond the arc of the game, tied it up at 15. A basket by Ashley Adams and a free throw by Amber Stokes put OSU up by three but Notre Dame responded with a 10 to 2 run that put them up 25-20 with just under a minute remaining. A basket by Ashley Adams ended the Irish run and she then ended the half with a forceful block so send the teams into halftime with the Buckeyes trailing 25-22.
While Notre Dame clearly looked a step above Ohio State in the first half, the Buckeyes did a good job staying with the Irish considering they are trying to adapt to the graduation of Samantha Prahalis and the loss of Kalpana Beach due to injury. Neither team shot well in the first half, with the Buckeyes going 10 of 26 while the Irish went 10-32. The major difference was from the free throw line where Notre Dame went 5 of 6 while OSU only went 1 of 3. Notre Dame used a pressure defense that clearly bothered the OSU guards as the Buckeyes committed 12 turnovers, four of which by Tayler Hill. On the other end the Buckeyes’s used their interior size to bother the Irish while coming up with 6 blocks, 5 by Ashley Adams.
Ohio State started the second half in a funk, committing several bad turnovers which Notre Dame took advantage of to go on a 10 to 3 run to take a 35-25 lead. The Buckeyes finally broke the Irish run as Amber Stokes drove to the basket and did a great job of adjusting in the air to not only make the basket but to draw a foul which she used to convert an old-fashioned three-point play. That play not only snapped the Irish run but it ignited a 10 to 2 Buckeye run to cut the lead to 37-35 with eleven minutes to go. OSU switched to a zone defense during that run which seemed to bother the Irish, resulting in some fouls and turnovers which Ohio State took advantage of. The two teams began to go back and forth with the Buckeyes unable to get closer than two but the Irish unable to pull away. The Buckeyes trailed 50-47 with just over two minutes remaining but they couldn’t take advantage of some offensive opportunities and the Irish extended that lead to 54-47 with just under a minute to go. A Tayler Hill three pointer off the backboard cut that lead to four points and gave OSU a sliver of hope but Notre Dame made a pair of free throws and Hill traveled on her next possession to end Ohio State’s chances. Each team hit a free throw in the closing seconds as Notre Dame came up with the 57-51 win.
Ohio State finished the game shooting 36% from the floor, 18% from beyond-the-arc. The poor shooting isn’t a big surprise due to the location of the game and the Buckeyes shot better than the Irish from the floor. Both teams were sloppy with the ball at times with OSU committing 21 turnovers to ND’s 19. Despite Ohio State’s better interior size, they were outrebounded 41-30, a sign that positioning and boxing out continue to be a problem for the team.
Tayler Hill led both teams with 20 points, making the game’s only two three pointers. Hill also got 4 steals and 4 rebounds but committed a costly 6 turnovers. Center Ashley Adams just missed a double-double, getting 10 points and 8 rebounds. Adams got 5 blocks and she could be an absolute monster inside if she can improve her ability to get into proper position. Amber Stokes finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Stokes struggled shooting, going 3 of 13, but it was great to see her looking to score more and hopefully she continues to do so. While freshman Ameryst Alston only scored 3 points, she played some quality minutes and pulled down 5 boards.
It is tough to figure out my feelings regarding this game, on one hand every loss always hurts but I also didn’t expect Ohio State to do well in this one so the fact that they had a chance to win it late is a nice surprise. However the fact that the Buckeyes were right there and had chances to come away with the victory makes the loss frustrating. A few less turnovers, better free throw shooting and OSU gets the win here. Considering the amount of inexperience on the floor for the Buckeyes, the fact they had their chances against a team that has played for two straight national championships gives hope for the season. However there are many improvements that need to be made in order to have a chance at a Big Ten title. Free throw shooting has to get better, actually all inside shooting needs to get better as the team missed way too many bunnies. Interior defense still needs to get better, especially on positioning and the guards need to do a better job of handling pressure. I liked seeing the team repeatedly fight back but there were a couple unfortunate lapses in intensity and focus for the Buckeyes which ultimately proved costly.
Lots of questions still remain about this team, namely where the scoring will come from and whether the interior defense will get better but there are positive signs. Players stepped up a bit and the team doesn’t appear to be struggling with the new lineups. Freshman Ameryst Alston looks like she is going to contribute this year and despite having an off day shooting; Tayler Hill still found a way to get 20 points and improved her game as the day went on. The important thing now is to see how the team responds to this game and grows from it. Fortunately the non-conference portion of the schedule will give the team plenty of chance to improve and come together.