Ohio State was led to victory on Monday behind the efforts of Carly Santoro.
The redshirt senior guard helped the Buckeyes (6-8, 2-3 Big Ten) lead for most of the game, giving Ohio State its second consecutive victory against a ranked team when it defeated No. 17 Michigan State (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten) 65-55.
Santoro was on fire as she scored a season-high 25 points, hitting 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line and 7-for-9 from the free throw line. In addition, Santoro hit a personal milestone as she reached 1,000 career points at the end of the first half with a 3 that gave Ohio State a 29-27 lead heading into halftime.
Santoro, who also had four steals in the game, praised her teammates for giving her opportunities to score throughout the game as the reason for her success.
“My teammates just fed me when I was hot,” Santoro said. “Credit to them, they were passing well, and it was because of them that I had the open looks.”
Unlike its victory against Indiana Thursday, Ohio State came out riding the momentum of its previous win and used that to establish control for a majority of the game. Michigan State never had a lead larger than two, and only held the lead for 3:34 as opposed to the Buckeyes, who were ahead for 34:14.
This factored into exactly how Ohio State wanted to play tonight, according to Santoro.
“I just think we’ve really been emphasizing that we had to come out and start the game strong,” Santoro said. “That’s what we did tonight, and we said once we have the pedal down, we had to keep it going. We did that the entire game, and we just executed our game plan.”
Even as the game moved into the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes still found ways to maintain their composure. Ohio State led by as much as 15 as time wound down, but Michigan State started to chip away at the lead, lowering it to as little as six in the final minutes.
In addition, Ohio State was unable to make a single field goal over the final 5:40 of the game, resulting in the Buckeyes relying on two very important facets of their game: free throws and defense.
Ohio State buckled down on the charity stripe, going 12-for-16 after their final shot landed, and shot 22-for-34 from the line overall.
Defensively, the Buckeyes forced six turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, 17 overall, and made up for their lack of scoring by playing stingy defense to prevent the Spartans from making a serious run to tie the game.
“We really focused on our defense in the fourth quarter,” Santoro said. “That team averages 80 something points, and we held them to 55. That’s all credit to our defense. As for our free throws, we have been shooting a lot of them and would not have won the game without them. Our defense led to our offense, and it helped the free throws too.”
Also contributing to Monday’s victory was freshman guard Janai Crooms, who scored 10-or-more points for the third straight game by sinking 10 against the Spartans.
Crooms was satisfied in her role in getting Ohio State’s second consecutive win against a ranked opponent.
“It was great, honestly, we’re just always sticking together and in practice we come in with a lot of energy,” Crooms said. “You could see in the game, we’re always coming out with our pedal down and we just kept it for the whole time.”
Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff was pleased by the effort of his team.
“We played really hard this game, and I think we’re getting better every game,” McGuff said. “I think there’s been a difference the past couple games with us making more winning plays down the stretch, and hopefully that gives us more confidence. I still think there’s a long way for us to go in terms of where we can go with this team this year. We just got to keep showing up at practice and competing.”
Ohio State will hope to continue to build off their momentum as they travel on the road to face Penn State at 7 p.m on Thursday.