Tension was in the air at the Schottenstein Center as the No. 7 Ohio State (16-4, 8-1) women’s basketball team was in search of revenge on Northwestern (13-8, 2-7) after falling to the Wildcats two weeks prior to Thursday night’s contest.
The visiting Wildcats came into Columbus attempting to pull off a regular-season sweep on the Buckeyes. The last time Northwestern was able to complete this feat was in 2011. But OSU kept it that way, forcing the series with the Wildcats to 1-1 after coming out on top 76-73.
Both teams came into the game ready to battle, applying excessive pressure, forcing turnovers and pushing the ball up the floor in pursuit of easy buckets.
The cylinder was not allowing the rock to connect with the nylon in the first quarter for the Buckeyes, as they struggled from the field. Northwestern gave OSU no choice but to make adjustments early so that it wouldn’t let the game slip away.
The Wildcats played the first quarter with authority, and were able to stay poised against OSU’s full-court press to get quality shots in the paint.
“We handled their pressure well,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said after the game. “We were able to get shots, get the ball inside out and attack them a little bit.”
Northwestern followed junior forward Nia Coffey’s lead in the first half, as she put in 13 points to give the Wildcats a 34-30 lead at halftime. Coffey was able to make shots off the dribble, knock down a deep ball and make plays around the rim.
The high-scoring Buckeyes, who average a stellar 48.5 percent shooting from the field, shot a whopping 31.3 percent heading into the locker room at the half.
OSU sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, who is nationally recognized for her prolific scoring, was quiet in the first two quarters, only scoring one point in the first 20 minutes of action. OSU coach Kevin McGuff wasn’t worried about Mitchell’s struggles, however, because like most tremendous shooters, she just needed to keep shooting.
“‘Just keep playing,’” McGuff said to Mitchell during the game. “She’s so good. I knew she would turn it on when we needed it … I told her, ‘go ahead and slow down, but stay aggressive.’“
The Buckeyes embarked on a 6-0 run at the beginning of the third quarter, and continued to show spurts that gave Scarlet and Gray spectators hope for the finale.
At the end of the third the home crowd erupted after a Mitchell 3-pointer with contact, and then a 4-point play conversion from the charity stripe.
The final quarter began with a Northwestern 54-50 lead but was action packed and filled with an overabundance of lead changes.
Once the five-minute mark hit, OSU’s urgency level turned up a notch, moving the ball around smoothly on offense and executing the open shots that it was given. Sloppy play by the Wildcats in the final two minutes allowed the Buckeyes to march onto victory, keeping Northwestern’s brooms from coming out.
Despite her poor shooting performance in the first half, Mitchell was able to go on a surge in the fourth quarter and finish with 27 points to lead all scorers.
“People like (senior guard) Cait (Craft) and coach said keep shooting,” Mitchell said after the game. “You can’t stop shooting then because you will never get in a rhythm.”
Craft, who had been struggling with her shot the few games prior to Thursday’s, went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, finishing with 14 points and exemplifying her senior leadership in a tough game.
“We needed this win, just to bounce back,” Craft said. “I don’t think at this time last year we would have won a game like that … it’s just showing how much the group of girls that we have have matured and grown.”
The Buckeyes will look to extend their winning streak to five games as they get set to travel to Illinois to face off against the Fighting Illini on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the State Farm Center in Champaign.