INDIANAPOLIS — The No. 9 Northwestern Wildcats had a chance to upset the No. 1 Ohio State coming into the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that chance seemed to go away after the first of many 3s from OSU junior guard Kelsey Mitchell.
The Buckeyes exploded out of the gate, and went on a 15-3 run in the first seven minutes. OSU completely overpowered the Wildcats, knocking down shot after shot while smothering the Northwestern offense in nearly every aspect.
Mitchell was the clear catalyst throughout, finishing the first half going 4 of 5 from 3-point range, and consistently pestering the Northwestern defense with her ball-handling skill. Her offensive prowess propelled OSU throughout, as she finished 6 for 9 from deep with 27 total points.
Coming into the game averaging 23.4 points per contest, Mitchell surpassed her average within the first minute of the second half, knocking down a 3 to give OSU a ridiculous 36-point lead.
It’s nothing new for OSU to see Mitchell absolutely dominate a game, and essentially carry the team. At one point, Mitchell’s point total outnumbered Northwestern’s entire score.
Rather than take credit for her own stellar play, Mitchell immediately pointed to her teammates’ performances, and the performance of OSU as a whole.
“It was always going right for our team,” she said. “I think we jumped out really aggressively on the defensive end.”
Mitchell might best be known for her scoring, but her tremendous court-vision was once again put on display. OSU’s season assists leader, Mitchell racked up four assists.
The number might not be eye-popping, but her ability to thread the needle and dart passes directly into the open arms of her teammates led to more than a few wide-open shots for her teammates.
Utilizing her speed, Mitchell was simply dominant.
“It’s always a good or a bad thing that I play fast,” she said. “Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. In this case, I think it was really effective knowing that a lot of teams don’t like to run. And to our benefit, I think we are a team that has a lot of players that want to keep a high pace and a high energy and I think running the floor offensively and defensively is good for myself, my teammates and our program.”
Mitchell sat for the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. She took a few hard hits and falls during the game, but was able to continue moving on her own power, and did not appear phased after the game.
OSU coach Kevin McGuff wants consistent pressure from his team, including Mitchell. And that kind of pressure is exactly what he got.
“Our initial pressure was really good,” he said. “And we wanted to make them play 94 feet, and try to wear on them. And the only way that really works is if when they inbound the ball, we get the initial pressure. We got what we wanted today, and I think that really set the tone for everything else.”
Mitchell took advantage of the tired legs of Northwestern, who had just played the night before. Only time will tell if she can replicate the kind of top-tier production she enjoyed on Friday.
OSU will continue its quest for the Big Ten tournament title on Saturday at 4 p.m. against No. 5 Purdue. The last time out, Mitchell scored just 14 points, and struggled to find her shot against the Boilermakers.