If there is any time to have complete focus on the mission that has been set for the No. 5 Ohio State (22-4, 14-1) women’s basketball team, it’s now, and the players are well aware.
With the postseason in the near future, the Buckeyes continue to possess the “one game at a time” mentality that many teams live by, and they had Nebraska (17-9, 8-7) down to a science right from the jump, routing the Cornhuskers 96-70.
Both the Buckeyes and the Huskers immediately sprung out to a fast-paced start, with Nebraska scoring within the first 15 seconds and OSU answering right after.
Although the Scarlet and Gray controlled the pace of the game and showcased an abundance of energy, senior Ameryst Alston said they still believe they can do better in that realm.
“In the first half, our intensity wasn’t quite there,” the guard said after the game. “We weren’t really in the right spots, but in the second half we made adjustments.”
Nebraska’s first-half scoring attack was led by its freshman forward Jessica Shepard, who was nothing but smooth on the block, showing that she is one of the top post players in the Big Ten. She scored 12 points prior to the break.
Shepard’s 6-foot-4 frame and ability to convert a close-range hook shot with both hands made it difficult for her to be stopped. The Buckeyes’ forwards were able to limit Shepard to 20 points by the end of the match thanks to the tempo that they initiated, forcing Shepard to limit her playing time due to fast-break style that the Buckeyes followed.
When the Huskers were able to get the ball into Shepard, they had a lot more productivity within their offensive possessions. Having the basketball IQ of a veteran point guard, Shepard knew when it was appropriate to look for her own shot or to find an open teammate.
“Jessica Shepard is so good, that if you are going to let them walk the ball down and pound it in to her, it’s going to be a long night for us,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said.
But as a result of OSU’s scheming to limit Shepard, the night ended up not being all that long.
The Buckeyes followed the path of their most recent 2,000-point scorer, Alston, who went a perfect 3-of-3 in the first quarter, later ending the half with 12 points. Alston continued to orchestrate the OSU offense, finishing the game with 16 points and three assists.
It was Hart’s 14th consecutive game in double-figure scoring. A Dec. 31 game against Michigan State was the last time she scored in single digits.
Sophomore forward Alexa Hart remained an efficient shooter for McGuff’s team, going 8-of-10 from the field and maintaining her No. 3 rank in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (64.6 percent). Hart completed the evening with 18 points and nine rebounds.
In the last 20 minutes of play, it was difficult for the Huskers to come back and make a run on the Buckeyes.
The tenacious defense from OSU’s guards forced several Nebraska mistakes and made it difficult for any of the Husker ball-handlers to get the rock in Shepard’s hands.
OSU sophomore guards Asia Doss and Kelsey Mitchell were the triggers to the Buckeye defensive energy, tipping and stealing a multitude of balls and creating havoc for Nebraska. Doss would finish the game with four steals, while her and Mitchell combined for a flurry of deflections, a statistic that goes unrecognized by the stat book.
On the offensive end, Doss and Mitchell finished with 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Besides limiting Nebraska’s Shepard to an average scoring night, the Buckeyes were able to shut down sophomore guard Natalie Romeo, who is No. 2 in the Big Ten in 3-point field goals made with 86 on the season. Romeo went 1-of-6 from behind the arc, having to rush each one of her shots due to the limited space she received from the several Buckeyes who had the opportunity to guard her.
“(Limiting Romeo) was one of the goals,” Alston said. “She does a lot for her team hitting her threes.”
With only three games left in the regular season, OSU will continue to have the same mentality: one game at a time.
On deck, the Buckeyes will host Illinois (9-17, 2-13) at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday. The program will recognize seniors Alston and Cait Craft in the final regular-season home game of the year.
The match between OSU and the Fighting Illini is set to tip off at 2 p.m.