Despite sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell’s best efforts to keep No. 6 Ohio State in the game, the Buckeyes women’s basketball team faded down the stretch, falling 88-80 to No. 2 South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina.
Mitchell, a preseason All-American and the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, scored 36 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
As time began dwindling down and the Gamecocks took a 74-69 lead with five minutes remaining, Mitchell took the game over, leading two fast breaks by herself. On each of the drives, she was fouled and sent to the line both times before draining a 3-pointer to bring the Buckeyes within two points. A subsequent jumper from junior forward Shayla Cooper tied the game and forced South Carolina to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Gamecocks pulled away, slowing the pace, taking advantage of missed shots and turning offensive rebounds into second-chance points.
“We need to do a better job of holding our composure,” senior guard Ameryst Alston said. “I didn’t think we were too out of it, but it just came down to execution on offense as well as rebounding.”
Although 80 points seems like enough to win on most nights, OSU shot just 32.5 percent from the field. Only two Buckeyes players, Mitchell and Alston, scored in double digits. Alston added 23 points of her own.
“I thought Ameryst and Kelsey were both outstanding,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “They certainly carried us tonight. We have other really capable players who didn’t have their best night, and we’re going to show up to win a game like this.”
Much of OSU’s offense revolved around isolations or fast breaks for Mitchell and Alston, which played a major role in why the Buckeyes recorded just three assists in the game without a single assist occurring in the second half.
South Carolina’s ability to rebound worried OSU entering the contest, a key facet of the game the Buckeyes needed to improve from last season. OSU not only held its own, but led South Carolina in offensive rebounding 18-16.
Down the stretch, however, the Gamecocks grabbed multiple key offensive rebounds that led to second-chance points. Those opportunities gave South Carolina the lead and allowed it to slow down the game to a style the fits it better than OSU’s frantic pace.
“I thought we put ourselves in a position to win, but give South Carolina credit,” McGuff said. “They had a lot of toughness plays down the stretch with those offensive rebounds which I think were ultimately the difference.”
Offense: A tale of two halves
The Buckeyes fell behind early as South Carolina led 21-7 after just six minutes. But OSU came back, taking a 47-45 halftime lead largely due to its prolific pace and shooting from 3-point range. OSU shot 41 percent from the field and made seven of its 11 3-pointers.
However, in the second half, the Buckeyes made just 24.4 percent of their shots and converted on just three of their 12 attempts from deep. The only consistency between halves was shown in free throws, as OSU made all eight in the first half and 10 of 12 in the second half.
Shayla Cooper: Shake it off
If the mark of a great shooter is how confident one is after a miss when shooting his or her next shot, Cooper may be the female version of Stephen Curry. Cooper shot just 2-of-17, including making only one of her 10 attempts in the first half. Despite the struggles, like Curry, Cooper’s confidence didn’t waver.
The low shooting percentage is uncharacteristic of Cooper, who shot 47.7 percent last season. Much of her shooting woes can be chalked up to the talented South Carolina defenders she was matched up against.
Welcome to the defending national champions
There is only one way to increase the level of competition after playing the No. 2 team in the nation, and the Buckeyes will do just that when they welcome No. 1 Connecticut to the Schottenstein Center on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.