Ohio State accomplished a lot of what it needed to in its first game of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament.
But the Buckeyes also came out of their first night in Indianapolis with questions to answer — one potentially much bigger than the rest.
First and foremost, the second-seeded Buckeyes got a 73-58 win over 10th-seeded Rutgers.
That snapped a two-game losing streak and sent the Buckeyes to the semifinals on Saturday.
They also scored 73 points against a Scarlet Knights squad that allowed a Big Ten-low 59.1 during the regular season.
Ohio State has had better shooting nights than their 40 percent from the field, but coach Kevin McGuff was happy with his team’s defense.
“It started with our defensive pressure in the backcourt, and we really rattled them,” said McGuff, whose team forced 24 turnovers. “And we turned those turnovers into points. So I thought our full-court pressure was really effective, and even when we didn't turn them over, I thought we got them out of a rhythm.”
He was also confident the Buckeyes could play through some early struggles offensively, including a 2-for-17 shooting start.
“Coach McGuff just put the emphasis on we was a little too anxious, you know, getting a lot of quick shots and just trying to rush the ball a little bit more,” star guard Kelsey Mitchell said. “And then our shots will come. And just be calm with it and don't get too anxious with it. It's one of those things about calming down. We haven't -- we was rushing a little bit too much.”
Of course having Mitchell is something that would instill confidence in any coach.
The two-time All-Big Ten guard was part of that slow start, but she heated up fast.
When all was said and done, she had a Big Ten tournament game record 43 points, breaking the mark of 37 fellow Buckeye Jantel Lavender set five years ago in Indianapolis.
“I didn't know that it would be a special night,” Mitchell said after making 15 of 24 shots, including 8 of 13 three-pointers. “I think it is special that we were able to, like I said, win. I think that's my main focus. And I'm pretty sure it's the whole Ohio State family's focus, just so that we can win, prepare and try to do something special this weekend, not just day by day.”
Though the offense picked up after a 10-point first quarter in which Ohio State shot 17 percent, was still heavily reliant on one player (Mitchell) for most of the game.
Asia Doss had nine points while Shayla Cooper scored seven and Ameryst Alston tallied 12 on 5-for-16 shooting.
Whether or not Alston, who earned her third All-Big Ten first-team nod earlier this week, can improve on that showing Saturday night likely depends on how her shooting wrist feels by gametime. That was the one wrapped in ice after the game. She hurt it in a scramble for a loose ball in the second half.
McGuff said early indications were a sprain, and Alston said in the locker room she plans to try to play in the semifinals Saturday against Michigan State or Purdue, who played the nightcap at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
Ohio State crushed the Boilermakers 90-70 at home in their only meeting of the season, but the Buckeyes split a pair of meetings with the Spartans.
While Alston’s optimism about being able to suit up one day after being banged up has to be an encouraging sign for Buckeye fans, it remains to be seen if she actually can. And how effective she will be if she does.
There is plenty on the line this weekend for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes’ late-season losses cost them a Big Ten title and possibly a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Three wins this weekend — particularly if they include a third win of the season over regular-season champ Maryland — would seem to give Ohio State a great argument for moving back up to a 2, but having a healthy Alston is probably more important than their eventual tournament seed.
They will have nearly two weeks off even if they make the conference title game on Sunday, and it remains to be seen how Alston’s wrist will feel when she wakes up in the morning Saturday.
Even if she can go, holding her out could be the prudent move even though winning the conference tournament would be a major feather in the Buckeyes’ cap.
As Mitchell showed against the Scarlet Knights (not that it was the first time), she can carry a team for a night — maybe even a weekend — but for Ohio State to get to the next level, it will need her three-time all-conference running mate later in March.