INDIANAPOLIS — With 41 seconds remaining and her team leading by one point, Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell clanked a shot off the rim to give Minnesota a chance to take the lead. The ball bounced out to Golden Gopher junior guard Kenisha Bell, who sprinted back down the court.
Mitchell darted backward and Bell accelerated, then went up for a layup of her own. Mitchell reached out her arm and swiped the ball, which hit Bell on the leg as she attempted the shot and dribbled out of bounds, giving possession to Ohio State.
“All I know is when I saw her coming, I’m like, ‘I’ve got to do something. They’re going to win, they’re going to win.’ I just made sure I was there,” Mitchell said.
Following up her clutch defensive play, Mitchell drained two free throws to give her team a three-point lead with 29 seconds remaining that it would not relinquish. Using an 11-3 run in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, the top-seeded Buckeyes completed a late comeback and knocked off fourth-seeded Minnesota 90-88 at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Saturday to which sent them to Sunday night’s Big Ten championship game.
Ohio State will take on the winner of Saturday’s Maryland-Nebraska game.
During the fourth-quarter run, the Buckeyes picked up key offensive rebounds to give them second chances and drain the clock. On the possession which ended with Mitchell’s missed jump shot, Ohio State held the ball for 90 seconds due to redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga snagging three offensive rebounds. Of their 30 rebounds, 19 came on the offensive end.
“I thought that was a very significant — probably the possession — that was probably the possession of the game even though we didn’t score because we took the time off the clock,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said.
Ohio State and Minnesota, two of the top-five scoring offenses, sprinted on transition at every opportunity and combined for 25 fast-break points. Both teams utilized their fast-paced natures to go on short run, never allowing either team to take a lead greater than six points in the second half.
“It’s March. I mean, the madness has begun,” Ohio State redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga said.
With Minnesota lacking a dominant player on the interior, redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga dominated the post, making 10-of-13 shots for 26 points and grabbing a game-high 21 rebounds.
“I just tried to get every single rebound that was out there offensively and defensively,” Mavunga said. “Anything that could help my team, and my team did a really good job of patting me on the back and getting me riled up.”
Mitchell pushed the ball at every possible chance. She had 30 points on 10-of-26 shooting, but often worked as a facilitator and picked up nine assists. Buckeye redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun added 14 points.
Minnesota senior guard Carlie Wagner gave the Buckeyes trouble from the opening tip. She scored her team’s first points just 19 seconds into the game and by the end of the first quarter, she had 19 points, the most by anyone on her team in any quarter this season. Wagner finished the game with 26 points.
Minnesota junior guard Kenisha Bell added a game-high 10 assists to go along with 27 points and nine rebounds. Her teammate, sophomore guard Gadiva Hubbard had 20 points.
Both teams took advantage of the game’s high-paced nature on offense. The Buckeyes shot 44 percent from the field and went 8-for-20 from 3-point range. The back-and-forth game featured 11 ties and 16 lead changes.
Mitchell’s free throws at the end of the game helped Ohio State come out victorious, but the Buckeyes struggled the entire night from the charity stripe. They went 14-for-28 and missed four of their last six free throws in the game’s final 19 seconds.
“We’re usually a pretty good free-throw shooting team, but sometimes that happens,” McGuff said. “You get on a run the wrong way, and that kind of happened to us tonight.”
However, the Golden Gophers took advantage of the foul trouble and hit 21-of-26 free throws.
The Buckeyes played without senior guard Asia Doss, who missed Friday’s game as well with a sprained ankle. She is day-to-day, but will be back for the NCAA tournament. In her place forward Alexa Hart picked up her second start in a row and had eight points and six rebounds.