Last season, a stifling Purdue defense led to the Boilermakers knocking the Ohio State women’s basketball team out of the Big Ten tournament in the semifinals. The Buckeyes shot just 34.2 percent from the field and senior guard Kelsey Mitchell made 3-of-22 shots in her team’s 71-60 loss.
Purdue had another chance to knock the Buckeyes out of title contention Sunday afternoon. Tied with Maryland atop the Big Ten regular-season standings, Ohio State needed to win its remaining three games in order to claim the conference championship and the Terrapins had to drop one of its two remaining games.
But in the first matchup between the two teams since the upset in last year’s tournament, the Buckeyes took their turn as the dominant defense. They held the Boilermakers to 34.8 percent shooting, including 5-of-18 from 3-point range, and won 73-60 to remain tied for first in the Big Ten.
“They can knock down shots on any given night, like you said. I believe they’re 4-0 against top-25 teams, so they know what they’re really doing,” redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga said. “Before tonight, we knew all these things and, so, we knew what we had to do to execute defensively. And, so, I think we did just that.”
Ohio State ensured nothing would be easy for Purdue, a team coming off a 75-65 win against No. 10 Maryland. From the start of the game, the Buckeyes ran a full-court press to bother the Boilermakers, who prefer to slow the game down and keep action in the half-court.
Purdue trailed the entire first half, but gained a 34-33 lead one minute into the second half. Ohio State responded with a 13-2 run, which was highlighted by steals by Mavunga and Mitchell, which led to points. It had an 8-2 fast-break points advantage in the quarter.
“They got the tempo. We controlled it for almost three quarters, and then they got the tempo going and that wasn’t good for us at all,” Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp said.
Ohio State totalled 18 points off turnovers and 14 fast-break points. Mavunga, Mitchell and senior guard Asia Doss each had at least two steals, many of which directly led to momentum-building fast-break points. The Buckeyes needed the strong defensive performance, since they hit 42.9 percent of their shots and went just 5-for-18 from deep.
For a team that has given up fewer than 60 points just twice this season, Sunday’s defensive performance seemed somewhat uncharacteristic.
“I can’t remember all of the games, but I know we’ve had some good defensive games and also some awful ones,” Mavunga said. “I really think that we did a really good job tonight defensively and that showed.”
Of the Buckeyes’ four games against teams ranked in the top-25 at the time, three teams scored at least 84 points. Not since the fourth game of the season against Quinnipiac had Ohio State held an opponent to below 34.8 percent shooting.
Just two games ago, South Florida made 11-of-22 3-pointers and dropped 84 points against Ohio State. Bulls junior forward Kitija Laksa went 15-for-27 for 41 points. In late January, the Buckeyes gave up 84 points to Michigan, 99 points to Maryland and 103 points to Iowa in subsequent games.
McGuff said he believes a defensive performance like Sunday’s can become a consistent addition to the team. History has shown that might be an optimistic viewpoint.
“I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy, but we’ve got to do it consistently. Can’t do it some games and don’t do it other games. It’s important down the stretch of the Big Ten conference,” Mitchell said. “If we can do it how you guys saw it today, we might got something going.”