INDIANAPOLIS — Flashback to last week, and the No. 9 Ohio State women’s basketball team (24-7, 15-4) was on its last breath in triple overtime against Michigan State (24-7, 13-4) in East Lansing, Michigan, before ultimately falling 107-105 to the Spartans.
Saturday’s matchup at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse between the same two teams lacked the competitiveness that the last meeting contained, as Michigan State stomped over the Buckeyes 82-63 in a Big Ten tournament semifinal.
Redshirt junior forward Aerial Powers led Michigan State in the victory, scoring 31 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while her co-star, junior guard Tori Jankoska, brought in 23 points.
Sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell wasn’t her usual self on Saturday night, as she struggled mightily from the field to the tune of a 4-of-18 shooting performance, yet she still lead the Buckeyes in scoring with 20.
“At the end of the day, as a team, we just didn’t come to ready to play,” said OSU senior guard Cait Craft.
In the quarterfinal game against Rutgers, senior guard Ameryst Alston exited to the locker room early due to a wrist injury on a loose ball play at the end of the third quarter. As a result, the big question that loomed over the spectators in the building Saturday evening was, “Will Alston play?”
Nearly 18 minutes prior to tipoff, OSU coach Kevin McGuff would answer that question, submitting the official starting lineup card with Alston’s name sketched in.
“She had a sprained wrist and the doctor said that she couldn’t hurt herself any further and she wanted to give it a go,” McGuff said. “She’s a tough kid and she wanted to contribute in, but she couldn’t tonight.”
Throughout Alston’s time on the floor, she would act as a sort of decoy for the Buckeyes, not making any attempt to drive to the basket, nor crashing the boards like she is known to do. The wrap on her right wrist inhibited her from making too much happen with the ball in her hands.
In the first quarter, Alston would exit the game for the first time with 4:53 on the clock, and wouldn’t check back in until 5:04 left in the second. The senior leader would not attempt a shot until late in the second when she put up a desperation floating layup that did not come in contact with any part of the basket.
With Alston unable to shoot the ball pain-free, the Buckeyes had to try and stay afloat with a missing element to their offense. They sank.
“We did miss Ameryst a lot defensively and offensively,” Mitchell said. “But, like (Craft) said, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be tough and work.”
OSU went a staggering 9-of-32 from the field in the first half. A third of those made shots came from Mitchell.
The sophomore, who dropped a program-record 48 points in the last meeting with Michigan State, had to put the team on her back. But taking over a game against a strong zone defense like the Spartans’ is no easy task.
Mitchell would go into the break with eight points, visibly frustrated with the inability to get clean shots off like she was able to previously against the Spartans.
“That kid can get her shot,” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. “The biggest thing is that we extended so she didn’t get six, eight, 10 shots out there with us just hanging out.”
Unlike its matchup against Rutgers the evening prior, OSU was unable to hold Michigan State from catching fire from the field. More specifically, Powers proved why she is a finalist for the Wooden Award shooting 8-of-12 from the field and ending the half with 19 points.
Jankoska was quiet against Purdue in the quarterfinals Friday night, failing to hit any shots from beyond the arc, but she was able to turn it around against the Buckeyes. She knocked down two deep balls, spacing out the floor for the Spartans and allowing Powers to have more room to work.
“Tori didn’t let yesterday’s game affect her,” Powers said. “And I think that shows a lot of leadership, that she came out hungry and aggressive.”
Although the Buckeyes have been known for their ability to turn their game up a notch in the second half, they were in too much of a hole to counter the high-scoring Spartans.
Michigan State had no problem weaving through the OSU defense and following Powers’ lead. The 6-foot forward knocked down shots from the perimeter, while also showcasing her elusiveness off the dribble and powering to the basket.
The Scarlet and Gray would continue to claw at the Spartans in the fourth quarter, outscoring Michigan State 27-10 over the last 10 minutes, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent them from heading back to Columbus a day early.
McGuff and the Buckeyes will head back to the drawing board in preparation for the NCAA tournament, in the hopes of finding their midseason form and making a run for another trip to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
“That’s the great thing about college basketball, you get to tip it up again here before too long,” McGuff said. “We just have to get back to the gym and kind of get back to being who we are.”
The mentality has been the same for Ohio State from the get-go: one game at a time. Heading into the NCAA tournament, McGuff said the Buckeyes do not plan on changing that mentality anytime soon.
Michigan State will move on to the championship game of the Big Ten tournament against the top-seeded Maryland Terrapins. The ball is scheduled to be tossed up for tip at 7 p.m. on Sunday.