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Women’s Basketball: When Ohio State needed her most, Kelsey Mitchell came through

Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell controls the ball during the Big Ten tournament championship game against Maryland on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis. Ohio State won 79-69. Credit: Alyssia Graves: Assistant Sports Director

INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State’s once-hearty lead dwindled to two points with 5:59 remaining in the Big Ten tournament championship. Just nine minutes before, the Buckeyes held an 18-point lead on Maryland and seemed to be pulling away.

But with the Terrapins within one possession of tying or overtaking Ohio State, the momentum had completely flipped and a lead change seemed inevitable. So, Buckeye head coach Kevin McGuff called a timeout.

Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell said she was not worried. She expected Maryland to make the late comeback attempt.

“Teams make runs,” Mitchell said. “We’re playing in a Big Ten tournament. You know, we knew things could happen. We didn’t know at what point it would, but we prepared and we stayed focused and we dialed in for the rest of the 40 minutes.”

So, who did the Buckeyes turn to with seemingly nothing working offensively? Mitchell, of course.

The 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year launched a 3-pointer 20 seconds after play resumed following the timeout, draining the shot and sparking a team that desperately needed a burst of energy. Two-and-a-half minutes later, with her team leading by five points, she pulled up from beyond the arc once again and buried the triple to give her team a 70-62 lead with less than three minutes remaining.

The third-leading scorer in the history of college basketball with more than 3,300 career points, Mitchell had no explanation for how she went from scoring one field goal in the third quarter to piling up 12 fourth-quarter points.

“I can’t actually tell you,” Mitchell said. “It was just so many emotions. Individually I just tried to, like I said, stay as aggressive as possible.”

She entered the final quarter 4-for-16 from the field, then went 3-for-4 and made four free throws in the game’s final 10 minutes.

It’s never bad to put the ball in the hands of one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game. So the Buckeyes feed their top player as often as possible, even when Mitchell is having an inconsistent shooting night.

“Well, I mean, that’s where we want the ball,” McGuff said. “Whether we win or we lose, I can live with it with her shooting, because I have that much confidence in her.”

Ohio State learned in last year’s Big Ten tournament, the reliance on Mitchell’s scoring prowess can come back to bite the team when she is not hitting shots. Purdue knocked the Buckeyes out of the tournament in the semifinals and held Mitchell to 3-of-22 shooting.

But on most days, Mitchell can be counted on to get buckets.

She was named the 2018 Big Ten tournament Most Outstanding Player for her three-game stretch of wins against Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers in which she totaled 77 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Mitchell shot below 40 percent in two of the three games, but combined to go 12-for-26 from 3-point range in the tournament.

When she was announced as the award’s winner, she said she could not hear she won the honor. Regardless, she said that was not the trophy that meant the most.

“But when I got the trophy, individually I guess it’s okay,” Mitchell said. “But when you look at the trophy that you take home for your team and your program, that’s what matters.”

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