INDIANAPOLIS — Trailing Minnesota 85-79 with 4:40 remaining in fourth quarter, the Ohio State women’s basketball team had a sliver of hope to come back for a victory.
A six-point lead does not seem like much on paper, especially with nearly five minutes left. But on a night in which free throws were not falling and baskets suddenly seeming hard to make, six points seemed like a lot to overcome.
Coincidentally enough, a game full of runs was decided by one final run to close out the game. Ohio State made an 11-3 run in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game to advance past the upset-happy Golden Gophers in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
The full 40 minutes almost weren’t enough to decide the outcome of the back-and-forth matchup filled with 16 lead changes and 11 ties. But midway through the fourth quarter, it seemed like there would finally be no more lead changes.
A layup with 4:40 left in the fourth quarter by redshirt junior guard Kenisha Bell resulted in a timeout called by Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff. At that point in time, the Buckeyes were shooting 2-of-11 in the quarter and had not scored in more than two minutes.
He only had one message to his team: keep fighting.
“I thought both teams played really hard, and for a stretch in the third quarter I thought Minnesota played harder than we did, and I thought we played harder in the fourth quarter,” McGuff said. “They were getting a lot of 50-50 balls, then we were getting them down the stretch. That was what we kept emphasizing, just make sure we play hard.”
A jumper by redshirt senior Linnae Harper on the Buckeyes’ second possession after the timeout sparked a much-needed run. Senior guard Kelsey Mitchell followed the bucket up with an and-one, pulling Ohio State within one point.
The Buckeyes clamped up forcing Bell to miss her second shot in as many possessions. After a missed layup by senior forward Alexa Hart and redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga’s missed put-back attempt, Hart got a second opportunity after sophomore guard Jensen Caretti’s offensive rebound and buried a shot from the block to give Ohio State an 86-85 lead with 2:40 remaining.
After a defensive stop, the Buckeyes did not score, but had a possession McGuff called “probably the possession of the game.”
Mavunga essentially killed a minute-and-a-half of time by herself. Strong effort on the glass resulted in two offensive rebounds by her. The rebounds didn’t result in points, but they minimized the Golden Gophers’ chances of a comeback. With the rebounds, she became the first player in Big Ten tournament history to pick up at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in one game.
“It’s really an honor, I had no idea,” Mavunga said. “I wasn’t even going after trying to get a certain number of stats, whatever the team needed me to do is what I was there to do.”
Mitchell ended the possession with a missed jumper, and Minnesota finally got a defensive rebound and pushed the ball in transition. Mitchell was the only player able to get back in time and as Bell went up for a layup, she stuck her hand in and pried the ball out.
With only 34 seconds left, initially it was ruled Minnesota’s ball, but after a couple minutes of review, the officials was determined the ball came off Bell’s knee as it went out of bounds.
For the remainder of the game, Minnesota played the foul game, in hopes of Ohio State slipping up. But the Buckeyes, who shot 50 percent from the free-throw line, did just enough to come out with a win.
A pair of made free throws put the Buckeyes up three with 29 seconds remaining. Mavunga was forced to defend guards as a result of switching onto them and blocked two shots in the final 20 seconds of the game.
Minnesota made a late 3-pointer to pull within two points with five seconds remaining and Ohio State missed four of its final six free throws, but the Golden Gophers missed their final shot and allowed the Buckeyes to move on to the tournament final Sunday against Maryland.