Led by 28-point performances from guard Kelsey Mitchell and forward Stephanie Mavunga, Ohio State proved to be too much for defending Division II national champion Ashland as the Buckeyes defeated the Eagles 110-80 Sunday afternoon in their first exhibition game of the season.
Though Ashland stayed within striking distance early as it trailed 30-24 after the first quarter, Ohio State pulled ahead with a nine-point advantage in the second quarter and a 12-point lead in the third quarter.
“We started off pretty slow in terms of transition defense,” redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun said. “But then after that, I feel like we kind of settled down and started getting more stops and buckling down defensively, getting more rebounds, defensive rebounds, and pushing the ball more, playing at our pace.”
Mavunga, the tallest player on either team at 6-foot-3, put up 28 points and came down with 23 rebounds. Mavunga averaged a double-double last season, but her career high is 16 boards. She picked up 11 rebounds in just the first quarter.
“She was a beast on the boards,” Calhoun said. “Finishing the ball well. I feel like she ran the floor really well considering she didn’t have any subs for her.”
All five Buckeye starters — Mavunga and guards Asia Doss, Sierra Calhoun, Linnae Harper and Mitchell — scored double-digit points as the home team’s bench contributed just six points. Mitchell made 11 of her 18 shots and added five assists.
The efficient Buckeyes shot 52 percent from the floor, compared to Ashland hitting just 37 percent of its shots. The difference was even more pronounced from beyond the arc as Ohio State nailed 10-of-28 3-pointers while the Eagles drained just 5-of-21 triples.
Though Harper stands just 5-foot-8, she took advantage of Ashland’s smaller lineup and added 14 rebounds to her 17 points. Last season, Harper finished with seven double-doubles.
“[Harper is] not a little one, for sure,” Mavunga said. “She has a really big presence when it comes to rebounding, defensive end, getting steals, all that stuff.”
Ashland forward/centers Laina Snyder and Julie Worley powered the Eagles as they led their team with 21 and 16 points, respectively. They were the only two players to score double-digits.
“I like playing [Ashland] because they’re well organized and they execute things,” head coach Kevin McGuff said. “So they really make us defend and do some things that we’re going to see once the regular season starts.”
Injuries hold two players out of action
Ohio State, which has just nine players on scholarship, was short-handed than it will be this season as two key players sat out with injuries.
Senior forward Alexa Hart missed the game due to a right ankle sprain and wore a boot as she watched on the bench. Sitting next to her for much of the game was redshirt junior forward Makayla Waterman who missed the game due to a sore knee.
“I think we’re close [to them returning],” McGuff said. “But until it actually happens, we’ll see.”
McGuff said he hopes to have Hart back for the season opener, but is “not sure yet” if she will return by then. Both forwards are expected to play expanded roles with the graduation of forward Shayla Cooper and forward Tori McCoy transferring to Marquette.
Due to the absence of Hart and Waterman, redshirt junior guard Chelsea Mitchell and walk-on freshman forward Savitha Jayaraman played expanded minutes. Mitchell played 15 minutes and finished with two points, while Jayaraman played her first career minutes at Ohio State and drained two free throws for her first two collegiate points.
Further along this offseason than last year
Last season, Ohio State played just one opponent in an exhibition game before beginning the season: Ashland. And unlike this year, the teams played a close game as the Buckeyes came out with an unimpressive 88-79 victory.
Mavunga attributed the easier victory to a better preparation for the Eagles. But also said she feels the team is further along at this point than it was last year, something Calhoun agreed with.
“I feel like we’re a little better than what we expected to be,” Calhoun said. “We’re gelling really well. We don’t really have any other new players. So I feel like we all know where each other wants the ball.”
The Buckeyes did not add any freshmen or transfers to its roster. Walk-ons guard Karli Cronin and Jayaraman are the only new players and are not expected to play expansive roles.
McGuff also said he believes Ohio State is further along than it was at this point last season, but said that is be expected due to the team’s core returning.
Ohio State will be back in action for its second and final exhibition game Sunday as it plays host to Urbana at 1 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
Mavunga said McGuff addressed the team after the win and rattled off three areas he wants to see improvement in the second exhibition: transition defense, winning 50-50 balls and continuing to push the pace on offense.
McGuff called the transition “spotty at times and really good at times.” Ashland led Ohio State 20-19 in transition points and came down with 21 offensive rebounds compared to the Buckeyes’ 17 offensive boards.
The Buckeyes open the season against Stanford at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 at St. John Arena.