Buckeyes Fall Short in Big Ten Tourney Final

Ohio State nearly erased a 15-point second-half deficit, but the Buckeyes were unable to catch top-seeded Maryland on Sunday night.

Sunday night Maryland remained unbeaten against Big Ten teams since joining conference at the beginning of this season -- but not by much.

The Big Ten's best team was clinging to a 77-74 lead in the closing seconds when the Big Ten's best player, Kelsey Mitchell, received a pass and started up the floor with time ticking down. She got off a shot from inside the half court line that would have been good if it went down, but the ball bounced off the rim and to the floor as the buzzer sounded.

The top-seeded and fourth-ranked Terrapins could celebrate while the Buckeyes had to settle for second place in the 2015 Big Ten tournament after finishing third in the regular season standings.

That Ohio State (23-10) found itself in such a position was improbable both from the perspective of the beginning of the season and the early part of the second half. The odds were stacked against the Buckeyes in both cases, and Mitchell played a major role in bringing them back into contention.

Sunday night she scored a game-high 31 points. During the season, she led the Big Ten in scoring and provided a lift to her new teammates on a nightly basis as they gradually got better and came together as a team. The result was a five-game winning streak that came to an end against the Terps, who have not lost since the beginning of December and likely locked up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Ohio State held an early five-point lead in the tournament title game, but Maryland (30-2) wore the Buckeyes down with their size and took an eight-point lead into the locker room at the half.

The Terps pushed the lead to 15 points in the first four minutes of the second half, but Ohio State erased all but two points of the deficit over the next six minutes.

Mitchell was at the center of the comeback, starting it with a layup at the 16:14 mark and ending it with a three-pointer that made it 56-54 Maryland with 10:42 left.

Ohio State got within one three times the rest of the way, the final time on a Cait Craft three-pointer with 59 seconds to go, but the Buckeyes could not get over the hump.

After getting a defensive stop, they had a chance to go on top until Mitchell was called for traveling while trying to dribble through two defenders with just under seven seconds left.

Star guard Lexie Brown then made a pair of free throws to extend Maryland's lead to three, setting up Mitchell's would-be game-tying shot that bounced off the rim.

Brown led Maryland with 19 points while Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 13. Laurin Mincy and Malina Howard had a dozen points apiece for the Terps, who shot only 39.4 percent overall but were 9 for 17 from three-point range.

Three-pointers and offensive rebounds were the main keys to victory for Maryland, which enjoyed a 49-28 advantage on the boards that included 22 offensive caroms that led to 22 points.

Ohio State had only seven points off offensive rebounds but enjoyed a 13-2 advantage in fast-break points.

Howard, a 6-4 junior from Twinsburg, Ohio, had a game-high 12 rebounds, including four on the offensive end.

Mitchell was one of three double-figure scorers for the third-seeded Buckeyes, who lost to Maryland 87-78 in the conference opener Dec. 29. Freshman center Alexa Hart had 13 points and 10 rebounds while guard Ameryst Alston tallied 11 points and five assists. Craft had nine points, two assists and two steals.

Mitchell went over the 30-point mark for the seventh time this season and finished the night with an Ohio State single-season record 825 points. Hart blocked five shots to set a new OSU single-season record as well with 121.

Both were named to the all-tournament team while Brown was named the tournament's most outstanding player. Also appearing on the all-tournament team were Iowa center Bethany Doolittle and Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B.

Next comes an extended break for the Buckeyes and the Terrapins, who will find out where they are headed for the NCAA tournament via the annual selection show on ESPN scheduled for March 16.

A team with no seniors and one that lost three players to knee injuries before the first regular season game, Ohio State closed the season strong, winning 12 of its last 14 games to position itself for the Buckeyes' first NCAA tournament berth since 2012, when they lost in the first round to Florida.

The Buckeyes entered the day 26th in RPI and own eight wins over teams in the top 50.

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