LEXINGTON, Ky. - Behind lockdown defense and an offensive boost from an unlikely source, the No. 5-seed Ohio State women's basketball team defeated No. 12-seed Western Kentucky, 70-63 to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament Friday afternoon.
Ohio State forced the Lady Toppers into four shot clock violations and forced WKU into 10 first half turnovers. In addition, Asia Doss, who entered the game averaging just 5.4 points per game, exploded for a season-high 15 points off the bench to help lead the Buckeyes to the first-round win.
The 15 points for Doss were the most she had scored in a single game since the first round of the 2015-16 NCAA tournament, in which she scored 16 in a win over Buffalo.
“You just have to go out there and play your game,” Doss said of her performance. “It is win or go home, and I feel like that kind of sparks us as a team. Everyone is looking at Kelsey (Mitchell) and everyone is looking at Shayla (Cooper), so they just opened up the floor in general.”
Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said while he was happy with Doss’ scoring, he was even more pleased with her court vision.
“Asia was great. She was absolutely outstanding today,” McGuff said. “(Mitchell) was drawing so much attention, we needed other people to step up. Not only did Asia make shots, but she had six assists and she was getting people involved. She was also really good on the defensive end. She is a great communicator on that end.
“She understands what we do and what we are trying to accomplish and she kind of keeps everybody on the same page.”
After taking a 37-30 lead into halftime, the Buckeyes allowed the Lady Toppers to pull within three before going on a 7-0 run in response, capped by Doss' third three-pointer of the game to give Ohio State a 44-34 lead with 4:29 to play in the third.
The Lady Toppers cut the Ohio State lead to six after an offensive put-back from Ivy Brown, but Kelsey Mitchell answered at the other end with a corner three to extend the lead back to nine. WKU star point guard Kendall Noble responded with a floater in the lane at the third quarter buzzer to bring the score 50-43 heading into the final frame.
After WKU cut the Ohio State lead to just six with 8:11 to play, the Buckeyes answered with an 8-0 run which was capped by a transition layup by Tori McCoy to extend the lead to 60-46 with 6:02 to play. McCoy, starting her seventh straight game for the injured Stephanie Mavunga, finished with 12 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeye lead would swell to as much as 16 with 4:38 left to play, however the Lady Toppers managed to cut the Ohio State lead to six yet again with 21 seconds to go following a three-ball from Tashia Brown. However, the Buckeyes recorded three consecutive stops on the defensive end and added a free throw from Doss to seal the win. The Lady Toppers shot just 9 of 37 from three-point range, while Ohio State converted on 8 of 20.
Ohio State held off multiple WKU runs, something Cooper said wasn’t easy against a team that normally makes plenty of long range shots.
“They are a great team, they are a great shooting team so we know that just because we get up by a little bit, that wasn’t enough,” she said.
After scoring just four points in the first half, Mitchell found her shooting stroke in the second half as she finished with 15 points for the game.
She said after the game to see a pair of three-pointers fall in the second half was big for her confidence after a slow first half in the scoring column.
“It is always good to see something go in. It has been really tough (recently) as far as offense,” Mitchell said. “Once I see a couple go in, I am happy. It’s good to see them go in for myself because (I0 work so much and do so much, it’s tough when it doesn’t translate the way you want it too.”
Early in the contest, Mitchell, and the rest of Ohio State's starters struggled to find the bottom of the net, but got a big lift off the bench from Doss. The junior guard from Detroit scored eight in the first quarter alone to help push Ohio State to a 21-18 lead after the first frame.
The first half remained tight until the final minute of the second quarter when Mitchell hit her first shot from the field, burying a long-range three-pointer. Doss and Linnae Harper then combined to force a steal on the ensuing inbound to give Harper an easy layup, sending Ohio State into the locker room with a seven-point lead.
“During those runs we had today, we had a couple steals with our post players running the floor,” McGuff said. “When we needed it, our kids buckled down and made some winning plays that were the difference in the game.”
A transfer from Kentucky playing in her former home gym, Harper managed just two points in her return to Memorial Coliseum.
Cooper struggled from the floor (3 of 11 shooting), but did grab a game-high 15 rebounds against Western Kentucky while chipping in six points and six assists.
Western Kentucky was led by Noble, who dropped in a team-high 19 points and collected 12 boards in the loss.
Ohio State is set to take on No. 4-seed Kentucky on Sunday with the time TBD.
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