Ohio State women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff’s attitude of challenging his team with elite opponents, allowing his players to learn and grow from the experience, cannot be questioned.
For the third time in seven games, the Buckeyes battled a top-three-ranked adversary and participant in last season’s Final Four. McGuff’s team fell to No. 2 South Carolina 88-80 in the season opener and lost to No. 1 Connecticut 100-56 three days later.
The latest game, against No. 3 Notre Dame, allowed OSU a third and final opportunity to take down one of the elite teams before conference play begins.
But the Buckeyes could not hang on down the stretch as Notre Dame (7-0) pulled ahead late and handed No. 10 Ohio State (4-3) its closest loss of the season, beating the Scarlet and Gray 75-72 Wednesday evening in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
OSU sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, who led the Buckeyes in scoring with 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting, missed a deep 3-pointer as time ran out which would have sent the game into overtime. The fierce competitor played the entire game, all 40 minutes, not once subbing out.
“We wanted to get her off a ball screen, she came off one, we were going to maybe set another and she got a good look at it. But it didn’t go down,” McGuff said of the final play.
Mitchell’s backcourt scoring partner, senior guard Ameryst Alston, struggled to find a groove in a sloppy first half by both teams, but improved in the second half as 11 of her 13 points came after halftime. She fouled out late, but not before her layup tied the game at 72 with 37 seconds remaining.
Turnovers from both teams were responsible for the ugly first half. Of OSU’s 20 turnovers, 12 came in the first 20 minutes of the game. Notre Dame committed 18 turnovers, nine occurring in the first half.
The Buckeyes scored 24 points off turnovers compared to the Fighting Irish’s 19, a discrepancy due to the fact that OSU coughed the ball over more.. McGuff noted turnovers, along with rebounding, as the biggest struggle for the Buckeyes.
Notre Dame, missing starting sophomore forward Brianna Turner and junior forward Taya Reimer due to injuries, relied on volume shooting and offensive rebounding to dispose of the Buckeyes.
“They’re still a great team. They were really well prepared tonight. They played hard, they executed really well on offense,” McGuff said about Notre Dame.
Redshirt senior guard Madison Cable paced the Fighting Irish with 25 points and, despite standing just 5-foot-10, she corralled 11 rebounds. Her teammate, junior guard Lindsay Allen added 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Entering Wednesday’s game, the Notre Dame connected on 45.2 percent of their 3-point attempts. However, the Fighting Irish attempted a whopping 24 threes, twice as many as OSU, but made just seven.
The home team made up for the poor shooting night by cleaning up the offensive glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds.
Defensive rebounding remains an issue for OSU.
“I thought that was the difference in the game,” McGuff said about losing the rebounding battle. “They got too many second-chance points.”
Only junior forward Shayla Cooper accounted for more than four rebounds, as she grabbed 15 of her team’s 34 rebounds. By the end of the first half, Cooper already posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. She ended up with 18 points.
“She was a warrior on the glass and we needed it because they’re a great rebounding team,” McGuff said. “But overall, I thought this is probably her best game.”
Through seven games, opponents average 15 offensive rebounds per game against OSU, a staggeringly large number. The Buckeyes have grabbed 15 rebounds just twice all season and only once has the team outrebounded its opposition.
“Yeah, we do, we do,” McGuff said when asked about needing to find someone else other than Cooper to help inside. “We need to find a little more around the basket than just her.”