The second-seeded Buckeyes committed four turnovers in a crucial four-minute stretch late in the second half and were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament by the third-seeded Scarlet Knights. Coach Jim Foster's squad finished the season with a record of 30-5.
Ohio State shot just 39.6 percent from the floor -- including 23.5 percent from three-point range. The Buckeyes shot just 33.3 percent from the floor as they fell behind 27-22 at halftime. OSU got the Rutgers lead down to two on several occasions in the second half, but could never get the game tied up.
Rutgers (28-6) avenged a 52-50 loss at Ohio State in January and advanced to face top-seeded Tennessee in the regional final Tuesday night.
In a physical game, OSU center Jessica Davenport shrugged off early foul trouble and helped carry the Buckeyes back from a 39-30 deficit midway through the second half. The 6-4 sophomore scored eight points during a 12-5 run that brought her team within two points of the lead with 7:35 remaining.
Then, with a chance to tie the game, Buckeye guard Brandie Hoskins lost the ball on a questionable call in the backcourt. Senior point guard Ashley Allen followed with a double dribble. One minute later, Allen lost the ball again. Then it was sophomore forward Stephanie Blanton that threw the ball away.
Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter capped a 10-3 run with a three-pointer that gave the Scarlet Knights a 54-45 lead with 3:09 to go, and effectively ended Ohio State's season.
"I think the game was very physical, and I think their ability to break us down off the dribble and our inability to break them down off the dribble was the difference in the game," Foster said afterward.
OSU finished with 15 turnovers. Rutgers had seven.
The turnovers at the end really hurt.
"We were just staring," Foster explained. "Jess had scored some points, and we were staring (to get the ball inside), and the weakside defender rotated over. Ballfakes there would have created some pretty good opportunities."
Good opportunities were tough to find against the Scarlet Knights, who battled Davenport with multiple defenders in the paint and relied on their quickness advantage on the perimeter. The Buckeyes never found any rhythm offensively.
"You can't have one assist and six turnovers at the point guard position," said Foster, referring to the combined numbers of Allen and sophomore Kim Wilburn. "It's not conducive to winning basketball. Shots go in or they don't go in. And we didn't get enough offensive rebounds. But you can't turn the ball over and not have assists from that position."
Part of the problem was Ohio State's inability to start the offense by dropping the ball in to Davenport. There wasn't enough inside-outside action to create open looks for Hoskins, Allen, or, most importantly, senior guard Caity Matter.
Rutgers was very physical in denying the entry pass to the low post.
"It was a very physical game, a lot of bumping for 40 minutes," Davenport said. "But that's expected at tournament time."
The officials were a factor in the outcome, according to Foster, not because they favored one team or the other, but rather because of the contact they permitted on both ends of the floor.
"It's obvious that the NCAA Tournament is played differently than the regular season," the coach said. "And it's something that players have to adjust to. It's a much more physical game. But, if this game is ever going to ebb and flow, it can't be a wrestling match."
Davenport wrestled her way to 22 points and 14 rebounds. Hoskins had 12 points. Nobody else reached double figures for the Buckeyes.
Rutgers didn't need to worry as much about the extra bumping inside. The Scarlet Knights were perfectly content to inflict their damage from the perimeter.
Pondexter was the difference-maker, totaling 24 points and four assists. Freshman guard Matee Ajavon had 14 points and senior forward Chelsea Newton added 13 points.
"I think what separates that team right now is they've got a couple players that can beat you off the dribble," Foster said. "Cappie's playing at a very high level right now. When she's making threes, she's pretty hard to guard. And Ajavon is player that can go by you."
OSU played its best defense at the start of the game.
The Buckeyes jumped to an 8-3 lead, getting two early baskets from Davenport and two more from Hoskins and Blanton. They maintained control for the first 10 minutes, despite the fact that Davenport drew a pair of fouls before the first media timeout. Foster decided to keep her on the floor.
"We left her in there and she was pretty disciplined not to commit another one," Foster said. "But I think it was difficult for her to get position on offense because of the tentativeness of not wanting that third one."
Davenport was able to play the rest of the first half without picking up her third foul.
Rutgers found little breathing room against Ohio State's halfcourt defense early on. Pondexter was the only player who managed to get some good looks. She scored seven of her team's first eight points.
OSU scored twice in transition and took an 18-10 lead when Blanton raced ahead for a layup at the 9:50 mark. That's when the Buckeyes hit a lull, which eventually became a full-fledged cold spell.
With the Scarlet Knights sagging two defenders on Davenport and upticking their ball pressure on the perimeter, OSU tried to attack Rutgers Coach Vivian Stringer's matchup zone defense off the dribble. Turnover problems ensued.
"They played good defense," Hoskins said. "We should have used more ballfakes. We were playing too fast. We weren't taking our time on offense, which made it hard for us to get it in (to Davenport). We guarded ourselves more than they guarded us."
Rutgers went on a 10-1 run and took its first lead, 20-19, on a 10-foot jumper by Newton with 5:46 left in the first half.
Ohio State committed five turnovers in the next five minutes, twice getting called for palming and once for a shot clock violation. The Buckeyes missed their last eight field goal attempts of the first half.
"They played tough, aggressive defense," Matter said. "But we just didn't execute offensively. We didn't get open and didn't reverse the ball as much as we like to."
Ajavon hit a three-pointer and Pondexter hit a jump shot to give the Scarlet Knights a 27-22 lead at the break.
The Buckeyes regained their shooting touch at the start of the second half, as Hoskins sank a pair of short jumpers and Davenport hit a layup. Rutgers answered with three baskets from Ajavon, including a tough baseline jumper that gave the Scarlet Knights a 35-28 lead.
Pondexter hit a short jumper and then assisted on Newton's baseline jumper that gave Rutgers a 39-30 advantage with 11:29 to go. That's when OSU started its comeback. But it wasn't quite enough.