After opening the season with a tough game against #5 Notre Dame that they came up short in, the #15 Ohio State women’s basketball team has won four in a row at home. While the wins are nice, they have come against substandard competition that didn’t really provide a test. The same could not be said about today’s game as the Buckeyes visited #22 North Carolina as part of the Big Ten-ACC challenge. The Tarheels are not only a talented team but they present a contrast in styles, preferring a more up-tempo game. The Buckeyes can run, not as much as they did last year of course, but when forced into their half-court game they prefer to be more methodical and generate good shots off of ball movement.
North Carolina won the tip and immediately hit a basket to start the game but Ohio State scored off of an Amber Stokes jumper on their first trip down the floor to set the tone for what would be a back-and-forth first half. After an Ashley Adams jumper gave OSU a 4-2 lead, UNC ran off 5 straight points to take a 7-4 lead two and a half minutes into the game. The two teams traded baskets for the next seven minutes before the Buckeyes went on a 7 to 0 run to take a 15-11 lead at the midpoint of the half. The Tarheels came right back with five straight to retake the lead only to lose it again a few minutes later as OSU went up 25-22 with four minutes left until the break. The Buckeye offense stalled at this point though and North Carolina closed out the half with seven straight points to go into the locker room up 29-25.
North Carolina carried their momentum from the end of the first half over to the second half as they scored the first 8 points of the half to extend their lead to 37-25 just three and a half minutes into the half. OSU finally got their first basket of the half five minutes into the second, ending a nine minute scoreless streak for the Buckeyes. Despite finally hitting a basket, OSU continued to struggle, not running their offense and struggling with their shooting, giving North Carolina the opportunity to continue to extend their lead which ballooned to sixteen points, 46-30, at the midpoint of the half. With things looking pretty much hopeless for the Buckeyes, Tayler Hill decided to take control of the game, sandwiching a two pointer between a pair of threes to ignite an 18 to 1 run that gave OSU the lead back 48-47 with three and a half minutes to go. The final minutes of the game became a frantic back and forth affair with the two teams trading leads. OSU seemed like they were in good position as they took a 54-51 lead with just over a minute to go but UNC closed the game with six straight points, aided by two steals in the final minute, to pull off the upset 57-54.
After shooting so well in their last four games, Ohio State struggled tonight, shooting only 34% from the floor but hitting 40% from three. North Carolina didn’t shoot much better, hitting 38% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. Neither team did a good job of taking care of the ball with OSU committing 22 turnovers while UNC committed 21. A lot of the turnover issues were due to good defense, the Buckeyes came away with 10 steals while the Tarheels had 15. The rebounding battle was pretty even with UNC winning 38-36. For a Buckeye team that tends to struggle on the boards, especially against good competition, that isn’t bad and the 16 offensive rebounds by OSU was a good sign.
Tayler Hill led Ohio State with 24 points, though once again she struggled shooting, going 9 of 21. Hill added 5 rebounds and 4 assists but also committed 6 turnovers, including one in the final minute. Ashley Adams added 8 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals while having a very off night shooting, going 4 of 12. Freshman guard Ameryst Alston came off the bench and played some really good minutes for the Buckeyes. While she only scored 4 points, she played some great defense, forcing North Carolina into some big turnovers late in the game. Alston also did a good job running the point and freeing up Hill to play in the shooting guard role that she is more used to. Look for Alston to keep getting more playing time in the future.
It is hard to know just how to feel about this game, OSU dug themselves a huge hole with a poor start to the second half following a good first half. In past years a 16 point deficit with 10 points remaining would have been the end of things for the Buckeyes but the team did a great job of battling back. They clamped down on defense and forced turnovers while making some adjustments that reignited the offense. Coach Jim Foster has been criticized for his lack of in game adjustments in the past, and there has been some truth to that, but tonight he did a great job as he put freshman guard Ameryst Alston in at point guard to take the pressure of having to bring the ball up the court off of Hill, letting her focus more on getting good shots. The shift worked, leading to 8 straight points for Hill which sparked the big OSU run. However it was all for not as giving up a pair of steals in the last minute gave UNC some easy points.
In the end there are two messages to take home from this game. The first is that OSU still needs to work on making sure that they are running their offense and not let themselves get pressured out of their game by the opponent. North Carolina played some good defense but the Buckeyes let themselves get rattled and started to force up quick shots. The other message is that this Buckeye team can compete with teams of this caliber when they play their game. The later run by OSU in a road game was impressive and if they had gotten their act together a minute or two earlier they would have had this game.
I am amazingly frustrated by this loss and I hope the team is as well, and that they use that frustration to motivate themselves going forward. We will get a chance to see what the team learns from this loss when they host Evansville on December 1st at noon in what should be an easy win.