Since Kevin McGuff arrived in Columbus in 2013-14, the question facing him and the Ohio State women’s basketball team was, could they win the big game?
The answer, finally for McGuff and the Buckeyes, is yes.
After a plethora of losses to premier teams such as UConn and South Carolina, the Buckeyes finally got their big time win, defeating No. 2 Maryland at home 98-87 to put them in the drivers seat to win the Big Ten outright.
The Buckeyes were led by none other than junior guard Kelsey Mitchell who scored 31 points on 11 of 18 shooting, burying 3 of her 9 attempts from long range. As a team, Ohio State shot a healthy 63.2 percent from the floor.
Should Ohio State defeat Rutgers (6-21, 3-11) on Feb. 26 in Piscataway, N.J., the Buckeyes would win their first Big Ten regular season title since 2009-10.
"It is almost like you have to go harder than you did for this game," Mitchell said when talking about OSU's upcoming matchup against Rutgers. "Everybody is talking about how we beat Maryland, but now there is a new test to see where your team is."
After leading by nine at the half, Ohio State opened up a 16-point lead with 3:38 to play in the third quarter. However, the Terrapins used a ferocious effort on the offensive glass and on the defensive end to go on a 14-0 run, cutting the Buckeye lead to 68-66 heading into the fourth quarter.
Ohio State would respond, extending its lead back to seven following a step back three-pointer from Sierra Calhoun with 6:25 to play. The Terps cut the lead down to four after a free throw from Kaila Charles following a foul that disqualified OSU post player Tori McCoy. McCoy finished with just five points and two rebounds against Maryland star center Brionna Jones.
Jones dominated the paint against Ohio State, scoring 21 and pulling down nine boards as the Terps outrebounded the Buckeyes 42-32, including 20 offensive boards.
Despite all of that, Mitchell, Shayla Cooper and forward Alexa Hart converted on clutch free throws in the final 90 seconds to seal the win. Ohio State trailed for just 2:34 minutes of game time, never trailing in the second half.
"That showed a lot of poise and shows a lot of growth and maturity with our team," Cooper said after the game. "In the past, we kind of fumbled with that."
Before the game, Ohio State’s lone senior, forward Shayla Cooper was honored with a video tribute and a framed No. 32 jersey as her family surrounded her. Perhaps playing with Senior Night jitters, Cooper ran the wrong way on the opening tip. It was one of the few times she struggled all night.
Cooper scored 10 first quarter points on 3 of 4 shooting in the first quarter including a perfect 2 for 2 from three-point range. She finished with 20 points, nine boards and five assists.
"It means a lot to be able to provide that for my team," Cooper said of her performance. "I just felt good throughout the game. They kept passing me the ball and, hand down, man down. That is what I have heard in the past so I just let it rip."
It wasn’t just Cooper that was hot shooting at the beginning of the game however. Ohio State shot a blazing 77.8 percent from the floor in the first quarter, with Mitchell leading the way with 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting as the Buckeyes opened up a 35-22 lead heading into the second.
The Terps were able to slow the pace down in the second quarter, dumping the ball inside to star center Brionna Jones on multiple occasions. By halftime, the Buckeye lead was cut to nine from 15 as Jones was 5 of 8 from the floor with 13 points and six boards with Ohio State holding a 49-40 lead at the break.
Other notable performances for Ohio State included Linnae Harper, who finished a perfect 5 for 5 from the floor with 11 points and four boards. Hart also finished in double figures scoring, chipping in 15 while Calhoun finished with 11. Maryland was led by Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who finished with 29 points.