Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
As redshirt senior guard Amber Stokes got ready to check into Sunday’s game against Penn State early in the first half, a smile broke out on her face.
Many of the 6,802 attendees took to their feet and cheered as the Buckeye guard took the court after missing the last four games due to injury with a new black brace wrapped around her sprained left knee.
“It’s always nice to have her on the floor,” said senior guard Tayler Hill. “She’s a threat on both sides of the floor.”
Though Stokes’ return might have ignited her team with some much needed energy, No. 8 Penn State (17-2, 7-0 Big Ten) ruined her return by defeating the Ohio State women’s basketball team (11-9, 1-6 Big Ten) Sunday 71-56 at the Schottenstein Center
The Nittany Lions were at the top of the Big Ten standings coming into the game and played an elite squad in the game’s opening minutes, starting off the game with a 7-0 run. The Buckeyes then fired back with an 11-0 run.
In the last two minutes of the first half, the Buckeyes started to build themselves a cushion against the Nittany Lions. Freshman guard Ameryst Alston had a strong finish at the rim and an acrobatic three-point play. With time running down on the shot clock, Hill stared down her defender and launched a 3-pointer that swished in front of the Penn State bench with 25 seconds left. The Buckeyes went into halftime leading Penn State 37-28.
When the Buckeyes returned for the second half, defensive breakdowns and a lack of ball movement slowly eroded the Buckeyes’ lead.
OSU coach Jim Foster pointed out a specific point in the game where he knew the energy was shifting toward Penn State.
“The foul-shooting situations gave them five points by not boxing out on foul shots,” Foster said. “That changed momentum right there. We spread them better in the first half. We got to our spots and moved the ball better. We stopped doing that in the second half.”
Within the first three minutes of the second half, the Nittany Lions started to cut away at the Buckeyes’ lead. With the score tied at 41 around the 15-minute mark, Penn State went on a 7-0 run and never looked back.
Despite Hill’s 28 points, the Buckeyes suffered what Hill described as a “mental breakdown.”
“We had mental breakdowns and turnovers,” she said. “They scored five points because we didn’t box out. We didn’t pay attention to detail and the game slipped away from us. In the first half, we reversed the ball and played well. We have to find a way to play 40 minutes.”
Hill said the Buckeyes, which are 1-6 in the Big Ten, are getting healthier.
“I think having everyone back is being able to take a step in the right direction every day,” Foster said. “We need to be able to put Amber in for 40 minutes so we don’t have to have Tayler on the ball. Tayler is more effective away from the ball and so are we as a team. The floor becomes a lot bigger because of her success and it allows Ameryst and Stokes to get to the basket and create opportunities.”
From injuries to inconsistency, the Buckeyes have hit a low-point that has been rare since Foster became coach.
Not only are the Buckeyes tied for last in their Big Ten conference, but they are 11-9 overall and have dropped all four games against ranked opponents, including Penn State.
Still, Foster and his players know that there is only room for improvement at this point. Alston said it has to start with their mentality.
“Mentally, we have to be there,” Alston said. “We have to pick up where we started. We can only move forward and not dwell on the past. No one in that locker room wants to lose. We can do nothing but build from here.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to have another chance to get back on track against Nebraska this Thursday at the Schottenstein Center at 8:30 p.m.