Energy filled the Schottenstein Center on Monday in Columbus, as everyone who was present for the late-night tip was well aware of what the contest meant for both parties.
The top spot in the Big Ten was on the line, and No. 5 Maryland (21-3, 10-2) was the challenger for seventh-ranked Ohio State (19-4, 11-1).
Earlier in the season when these two powerhouses faced off in College Park, Maryland, OSU took home the win, defeating the Terrapins 80-71. But the Buckeyes weren’t going to let past success affect how they entered Monday night’s meeting.
The teams are both known for their impressive scoring attacks, with Maryland averaging 85.9 points per game and OSU right behind them with 85.3 points per contest, but it was the Buckeyes who administered a greater effort to propel them to a 94-86 upset victory at the Schott.
The intensity that was circling around the arena from the start of pregame warmups translated immediately to a Buckeye success, as they started off the game with a 7-0 run.
“I was really proud of our effort to start, and we had great focus and energy right from the tip,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said.
Maryland had a tough time against OSU’s full-court pressure, turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, but when it was able to adjust to the Buckeye defense and the atmosphere that was presented, the Terrapins were able to play catch-up and keep the deficit to seven points heading into the locker room at the break.
OSU senior guard Ameryst Alston went on a surge to begin the first quarter, scoring 11 points, but more pressure came her way when she had the ball in the second quarter. She was limited to only two points, ending the half with 13. Along with her scoring in the first 20 minutes of play, Alston weaved passes through the defenders to her teammates, having three flashy assists at the half.
The Terrapins were able to make a majority of their shots off second-chance opportunities, grabbing 11 rebounds in the first half. The Buckeyes, being a more guard-heavy unit, have struggled on the glass throughout the season. Maryland truly took advantage of OSU’s weakness Monday evening.
Alston, though, would not point to height differences as an excuse for poor rebounding.
“We are looked at as being undersized,” Alston said after the game. “But it’s just ‘who wants the ball?’ so that is effort.”
Second-half action was dominated by the Buckeyes. They began to pull away after sophomore guard Asia Doss buried a 3-pointer with 4:26 left to play in the third, forcing a Maryland timeout and all the Scarlet and Gray fans to their feet.
Going into the final quarter of play, the Buckeyes led 75-61. Even with the lead, OSU kept the foot on the gas pedal. It continued to apply the pressure and push the ball on the fast break.
“I thought that we disrupted (Maryland), and those turnovers that we caused were key,” McGuff said. “Then we played at a really fast pace on offense. Overall, probably our best game to date.”
The second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, was back to her normal self, scoring 33 points after an underwhelming performance in OSU’s previous game in which she only scored 16 points. Mitchell went on a tear in the first half,, putting in 18 points with three deep balls, and knocked down another 3-pointer in the second half to pad her point total for the night.
It wasn’t only Mitchell who was knocking down 3-point field goals. The entire team shot an impressive 52 percent from beyond the arc, going 12-of-23.
“I think we have a special team,” Mitchell said. “Everyone can shoot and do something well on and off the court, and I think it helps us throughout the course of games.”
Alston had a productive second half as well for the Buckeyes, finishing her night with 22 points and eight assists.
Maryland was led by junior center Brionna Jones, who scored 28 points on the night. She acted as an absolute force in the paint with her extraordinary post play. Along with scoring buckets for the Terrapins, Jones dominated the glass,, grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to hit the road for their next two games, facing Iowa on Thursday night and then traveling to “Happy Valley” to take on Penn State on Valentine’s Day.
Now riding a seven-game winning streak, OSU has emerged as the team to beat in the Big Ten.