INDIANAPOLIS - Led by staunch defense and stellar three-point shooting, the Ohio State women's basketball team advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals for the second straight year, dominating No. 9 seed Northwestern 99-68 in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon.
The 99 points scored by OSU tied the Big Ten tournament record for most points scored in a game which was set in 2014 when the Buckeyes dropped 99 on No. 1 seed Penn State in head coach Kevin McGuff's first year at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes shot 13 of 27 from long range against the Wildcats, including an impressive 9 of 16 (56.3 percent) in the first half. It wasn't just Ohio State's offense that stood out, but its defense as well. OSU forced the Wildcats into 21 turnovers for the game, 16 of which came in the first half as the No. 1 seed Buckeyes carried a 51-24 lead into the locker room.
McGuff said he was impressed with his team's full court press on defense and added he thought that set the tone for Ohio State's blowout victory.
"Our initial pressure was really good. We wanted to make them play 94 feet and wear on them," he said. "The only way that really works is when they inbound the ball, we get initial pressure and we got what we wanted today. And I think that really set the tone for everything else."
By halftime, Ohio State star guard and Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell and Shayla Cooper had combined for 27 first half points, outscoring the entire Wildcats team in the first two quarters. Mitchell had 16 at the half, and began the third quarter with a flurry.
Mitchell scored Ohio State's first nine points of the third in less than two minutes, driving to the hoop and finishing with a layup and a foul to complete a three-point play. She followed that up with back-to-back three-point jumpers to give her 25 points, which at the time, gave her more than the Wildcats had as a team (24). She finished with 27 points and did not play in the fourth quarter.
Mitchell said Ohio State's uptempo style of play helped contribute to the Buckeyes explosive output on the offensive end, especially since Northwestern had played the day before in a tight win over Iowa.
"I think it was really effective knowing that a lot of teams don't like to run and to our benefit I think that we have a lot of players that want to keep a high pace and a high energy," Mitchell said. "I think running the floor offensively and defensively is good for myself and my teammates and our program. When we play against opponents that don't like to run or aren't comfortable with that I think we have to take that and utilize that and make it our positive."
In addition to Mitchell's big night, Cooper, Ohio State's lone senior, nearly finished with a double-double. She tallied 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting and took down nine boards. Along with Mitchell, Cooper did not play in the final quarter.
The Buckeyes lead ballooned to as much as 39 late in the third before McGuff emptied his bench as his team coasted to an easy win.
Ohio State's post players also answered the challenge of playing against one of the Big Ten's best in Northwestern forward Nia Coffey. Buckeye freshman Tori McCoy, starting in place of the injured Stephanie Mavunga, collected 11 rebounds and chipped in eight points in 16 minutes. Off the bench, Alexa Hart and Makayla Waterman combined for 19 points and 15 rebounds.
"They were both outstanding," McGuff said of Hart and Waterman. "I think our bench in general really have us a huge lift today. We wanted to utilize our depth and the pace of the game to play against a Northwestern team that had played a hard fought game yesterday. In particular, I thought KK and Alexa were excellent."
Waterman finished with eight points, seven boards, three blocks and three assists and said that coming into the tournament, she knew she needed to step up, especially with Mavunga being out.
"I feel like today was the start of something good," Waterman said. "I told myself before this, its March. If you want to play, now is the time to play. I was happy with myself and I think my team was happy with me. It was really fun today."
For Northwestern, Coffey, who averaged 20 points and 10.5 boards during the season, finished with 21 points and eight boards before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes also kept Northwestern star guard and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ashley Deary in check, as she finished with 13 points and five turnovers.
Freshman guard Kiara Lewis, junior guard Linnae Harper and Hart all scored 11 for the Buckeyes.
With the win, Ohio State advances to the Big Ten tournament semi-final and is set to take on No. 5 seed Purdue. The Boilermakers came back from a 17 point deficit to knock off No. 4 seed Indiana in the second quarterfinal game on March 3. The Buckeyes and Boilermakers are set to tipoff at 4 p.m. on March 4.