Coming off a disappointing loss to a struggling Washington State team on Saturday, the Ohio State women’s basketball team wrapped up their state of Washington road trip with a trip to Gonzaga. Things did not look positive for the Buckeyes heading into the is one as they had not won a road game since January 2011 while Gonzaga had only lost two games so far this season, to top ranked Stanford and to 7th ranked Louisville. Concern grew among Buckeye fans when Tayler Hill did not participate in pregame warm-ups due to a bruised heel, though she would still start.
Ohio State got off to a rough start, turning the ball over on three of their first six possessions and failing to hit a field goal for the first five minutes of the game but only trailed 6-4 at the first officials’ timeout with just under fifteen minutes remaining in the half. The officials timeout didn’t help OSU’s shooting and the Bulldogs took advantage, going on a 9 to 2 run to open up a 15-6 lead with nine minutes on the clock. A quick four points by the Buckeyes cut the lead to five but Gonzaga answered right back to push the lead back to nine, 19-10. Ohio State finally got something going on offense, getting out and running after pulling down some big defensive rebounds as they went on an 11 to 2 run to tie the game at 21 with three minutes remaining before the break. The Bulldogs quickly retook the lead but the Buckeyes scored the final four points of the half to take their first lead of the game and go into halftime leading 25-23.
After only shooting 20% for the first ten or so minutes of the half, OSU did a much better job for the remainder of the half, shooting 38% from the floor overall, essentially the same as Gonzaga. Defensive rebounding was key as the Buckeye guards were able to leak out and run after the rebound, generating good offensive chances. Turnovers were a problem though as the Buckeyes lost the ball 11 times in the half.
Both teams started the second half shooting much better and three minutes into the half Ohio State led 33-32. The Buckeyes then went on an 8 to 2 run to stretch their lead to 41-34 with fourteen and a half minutes remaining in the game. After trading baskets for several minutes OSU started to get sloppy with the ball again, committing several costly turnovers which the Bulldogs used to go on an 8 to 2 run of their own to tie the game at 47 with seven minutes remaining. Ohio State recovered though and scored the next 7 points only to see Gonzaga come right back and tie the game at 54 with just under four minutes remaining. Needing a basket to counter the Bulldog momentum, Amber Stokes hit a huge three-pointer late in the shot clock to give the Buckeyes back the lead. Not content to let her more experienced fellow guard get all the praise, freshman guard Ameryst Alston did a great job of drawing a charge on Gonzaga’s next possession to give OSU the chance to extend the lead, which they did thanks to a pair of free throws from Tayler Hill. Gonzaga drew a quick foul on their next possession, hit the front end of a one-and-one, grabbed the offensive rebound after missing the back end, and then hit a quick three to make it a one point game, 61-60, with twenty six seconds remaining in the game. The Bulldogs quickly fouled Ameryst Alston who missed the front end of the one-and-one but Hill grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Hill hit both of her free throws and two more a few seconds later to give Ohio State the 65-60 win.
Despite their horrible early shooting, Ohio State rallied and ended up shooting a great 47% for the game, though they only went 2 of 7 from three point range. After a sloppy first half, the Buckeyes did a much better job taking care of the ball, committing only 6 turnovers in the second half to give them 17 total for the game. Taking care of the ball also was reflected in the assist column where OSU finished with 16, after only 6 in the first half. The Ohio State defense struggled trying to stop Gonzaga who shot 46% from the field, 38% from three. The good shooting by both teams meant that there weren’t a whole lot of rebounds to grab but OSU won that battle 31-28. One of the key differences in the game came from the foul line; both teams shot 18 free throws but the Buckeyes hit 15 of those while the Bulldogs hit only 7.
Tayler Hill led both teams with 25 points, thanks in large part to going a perfect 12 of 12 from the free throw line. Hill was very active and tenacious in this game, as evidenced by her game high 9 rebounds; she also added 3 assists and a steal. Amber Stokes added 10 points and 3 steals, coming up big down the stretch with some crucial steals and what was probably the biggest three point shot of her career. Ashley Adams also added 10 points while pulling down 4 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists, and recording 2 blocks. Aleksandra Dobranic pulled down 5 rebounds to go along with a career high 8 points.
Tonight’s game showed both the youth and inexperience of freshman point guard Ameryst Alston as well as her incredible potential. Alston struggled when it came to dealing with being screened on defense and she needs to work on better identifying the cutter. At the same time, Alston recorded a game high 7 assists in the face of some intense defensive pressure from Gonzaga and came up with 4 crucial points late in the game.
Coach Foster went with a shorter bench than he had this season, using only 3 reserves in tonight’s game and only sparingly, looking much more like the Foster substitution policy that we have grown used to. Martina Ellerbe and Darryce Moore finished with 2 and 6 points, respectively, and they all came at important points in the game. Raven Ferguson did not score but showed a lot of energy and fight, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists; she would have had more assists but her teammates failed to finish on a couple of occasions.
The fact that Gonzaga is unranked and isn’t a famous name in women’s basketball makes it easy to not realize how big of a win this was. The Bulldogs have really followed the path of their men’s team in recent years and have become a program to contend with, making the Elite 8 last year and the Sweet 16 the year before; in the 124 games since moving into their current arena the Bulldogs have now only lost 13 times. That success had extended to this season as Gonzaga had already beaten power conference teams Southern Cal and Wisconsin with their previous two losses coming to teams in the top 10.
This win truly was a huge one, Ohio State came in having struggled on the road over the past year and was fresh off a majorly disappointing loss to an underwhelming Washington State team. The Buckeyes struggled out of the gate and fell behind early but then they rallied to take the lead by halftime. A strong start to the second half saw the Buckeyes extend their lead only to see Gonzaga charge right back. In front of a near capacity, hostile and very loud crowd the Buckeyes continuously fought back, extending their lead, seeing the Bulldogs come back, and then briefly quieting the crowd with a run of their own. In the closing minutes both the offense and defense stepped up with some huge plays when the game was on the line. Offensively Tayler Hill of course made some big shots but the biggest shot of the game was the three pointer from Amber Stokes, a shot she may not have taken, or been comfortable taking, in previous seasons. Defensively Stokes came up with some big steals in the final minutes and freshman Ameryst Alston had an amazingly heady play to draw a big charge with about a minute to go. Sure, the intense Gonzaga defense rattled OSU at times and knocked them out of their game but each time it happened, the Buckeyes adjusted and got their offense going again.
There are definitely still things that this team needs to improve on, not getting rattled by pressure defenses and not getting caught flat footed on defense when the opponent wants to push tempo. Still, today’s game showed that this team has a lot of fight, just like we saw against UNC, and they have the talent to make some noise this season, despite everyone’s low expectations coming into the season. The Buckeyes will fly home tonight and will return to action on Friday when they host Southern at 8:00pm.