With senior guard Ameryst Alston sidelined with a wrist injury, the Ohio State women’s basketball team looked out of sorts. For about five minutes.
After trailing 11-8 with just more than five minutes gone in the game, the No. 3 seed Buckeyes rattled off a 22-1 run to close out the quarter and never looked back in a 88-69 victory over No. 14 seed Buffalo.
Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said that during the first quarter, he saw the Buckeye team that won 11 in a row during the regular season.
“I think that (22-1 run) was a reflection of overall our intensity being at a higher level today. That looked a little more reminiscent of what we've done throughout the season not necessarily the last two weeks," McGuff said. "It felt like we got back to playing more like the team we’re capable of being."
During the first quarter run, sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell scored all of her 13 first quarter points in less than three minutes to help Ohio State to a 30-12 lead. The two-time All-Big Ten player would finish with a game high 27 points.
"She is fun to watch," McGuff said of Mitchell's play. "She really let the game come to her. She didn't force a lot of things early and because of that, a lot of the shots she did get were really good ones."
The second half would offer more of the same Ohio State dominance, as the Buckeyes opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run that saw four different Buckeyes score.
After seemingly figuring out the Ohio State full court defense in the first five minutes of the contest, the Bulls were frustrated by the Buckeye press for the majority of the game as Buffalo committed 16 turnovers. The Bulls were also forced to score from the perimeter for most of the game as they managed just 18 points in the paint while Ohio State collected 10 blocks.
Ohio State, playing without Alston for the first time since she came to Columbus ended the first half on a 40-12 run after trailing early. Despite playing with only eight players, Ohio State got contributions from all over the floor. Asia Doss stepped up early with nine first quarter points, finishing with a career high 16 for the game.
"Whatever helps the team win," Doss said of her performance. "I know I have to go out there and play the best annoying defense I can. We just go by the game plan. Just play hard. Honestly, I feel like that was the game plan today."
Junior forward Shayla Cooper got the start in place of Alston and filled up the stat sheet, totaling 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists to go along with two blocks in her first start since December 6th.
Perhaps the reason Cooper and Doss played so well was because the Buckeyes had time to practice without Alston, which McGuff said was a luxury Ohio State didn't have when they lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
"We have had time to practice, get a little bit of chemistry when she (Alston) is not in the game," McGuff said. "I thought they handled that really well. Asia and Shayla got a few more shots than they might otherwise get and they took great advantage of it."
Sophomore forward Makayla Waterman added six points and eight boards, while fellow frontcourt player Alexa Hart was a force in the paint defensively, swatting five Buffalo shots, three in the first quarter alone.
Kalpana Beach, playing in her final NCAA Tournament scored six points in nine minutes of action off the bench. Senior Cait Craft added five points in the win.
Buffalo was led by junior guard Joanna Smith who scored 23 for the Bulls, who were playing in their first NCAA Tournament in school history.
Ohio State is set to take on No. 6 seed West Virginia in the second round on Sunday at St. John Arena and according to McGuff, Alston could be available if the Buckeyes need her.
"We might have been able to get her in today but I was hoping to get her a little more rest," McGuff said. "It was a little bit of a gamble, but we were obviously able to get through today’s game without her, so I’m still optimistic she could help us on Sunday."