Two days removed from its first loss of the season, Ohio State recovered to down the Cleveland State Vikings 96-78 on Wednesday evening in Columbus.
Despite struggling defensively throughout, the No. 7 Buckeyes (2-1) used their size and athleticism as an advantage to take over the game. The Buckeyes outscored the undersized Vikings 60-24 in the paint.
“They’re not very big, so a point of emphasis was to get the ball around the basket,” coach Kevin McGuff said.
The inside effort was led by redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga, who put up 12 points and 10 rebounds in 14 minutes. Freshman forward Tori McCoy had the best night of her young career, adding 12 points and six boards.
Cleveland State had its chances to score in the first half, but they struggled to finish. OSU junior guard Kelsey Mitchell led all scorers with 14 points at the half and OSU senior forward Shayla Cooper added 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
The Vikings outscored the Buckeyes 8-4 over the first 1:24 of the third quarter, but that’s the closest they would get in the second half. A 17-0 run gave OSU a 30-point lead and the Buckeyes would close out the quarter leading 79-52.
Cleveland State would go on to outscore the Buckeyes 26-17 in the final quarter. OSU held its largest lead of 33 with 6:43 left in the final frame, but the Vikings climbed to within 18 before the final buzzer sounded.
“We still let them shoot a lot,” Mitchell said. “Our defense still was not good.”
Mitchell finished with a game-high 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field, including a 7-for-14 mark from 3-point territory. Cooper and freshman guard Kiara Lewis each added 12 points.
The Buckeyes shot 51.9 percent from the floor, while Cleveland State shot just 39.4 percent.
“We missed, I thought, some open shots,” McGuff said. “Especially Sierra [Calhoun] and Asia [Doss], they usually shoot it a little better, but it wasn’t there tonight.”
Defensive struggles continue
The night was highlighted by the Buckeyes’ interior play, rebounding and a strong night for Mitchell, but the underlying issue of OSU’s defensive play was still evident. The Buckeyes were sluggish to start the game and allowed Cleveland State to get plenty of good looks.
“We had a lack of communication on several possessions,” McGuff said. “I thought we had a good third quarter defensively and just were real spotty to end the game; kind of lost our focus and intensity down the stretch.”
In the third quarter, OSU’s defense held the Vikings to just two points in the paint and five turnovers, and Cleveland State managed to convert on just four shots from the field.
In the fourth, however, with the game in hand, the Buckeyes reverted to less-than-stellar defensive play. OSU allowed nine fast-break points and 12 points in the paint.
“It’s a lack of effort,” Mitchell said. “And that’s the whole team; myself on down, coaches on down.”
OSU overcame some of its defensive issues thanks to solid work on the boards. The Buckeyes outrebounded the Vikings 51-32 and limited the opponent’s second-chance opportunities throughout the contest.
Even though the Buckeyes’ defensive issues were covered up by other aspects of its game on Wednesday, Mitchell said that OSU still needs to take pride in its defensive efforts.
“You can’t teach it,” Mitchell said. “You can do all the help defense, you can do all the drills that we need to do, but at the end of the day it’s about you and yourself.”
LIU Brooklyn will travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes on Saturday, Nov. 19. Tipoff is set for noon.