No. 13 Ohio State returned to the court on Sunday after a week off and downed Iowa 88-81 thanks to Kelsey Mitchell's fourth-quarter explosion.
The Buckeyes were without their top rebounder and second-leading scorer Sunday afternoon, as they will be for the foreseeable future after forward Stephanie Mavunga injured her foot in practice this week.
Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff is optimistic Mavunga will return before the end of the season. Until then the team will lean heavily on freshman Tori McCoy and junior Alexa Hart, and likely play smaller and faster, which is what it did Sunday.
The Buckeyes went with a guard-heavy lineup against Iowa with none of their true forwards playing more than 22 minutes.
Offensively, the Buckeyes were carried by two players most of the game and surprisingly, neither of them were named Kelsey Mitchell. Sierra Calhoun and Shayla Cooper combined for 39 points and were the team's most reliable source of offense throughout the game.
|31-66 (47%)||FGM-FGA (PCT.)||31-65 (48%)|
|6-16 (38%)||3PM-3PA (PCT.)||6-13 (46%)|
|20-25 (80%)||FTM-FTA (PCT.)||13-17 (76%)|
Calhoun could not seem to miss in the first half. She was a red-hot 5-for-6 from the field before the intermission and 4-for-5 from three-point range. She finished the game with 19 points. Cooper, meanwhile, was the best all-around player on the court. She finished with 20 points while leading the team in rebounds with eight and assists with five.
Mitchell had a quiet game by her standards – until the fourth quarter. The team's leading scorer had just four points in first half and three in the third quarter. In the fourth, she lit it up, dropping 13 points in the fourth-quarter alone, becoming the team's leading scorer.
It was a back and forth game throughout the first half with the Buckeyes holding the lead most of the time, but only slightly. The Ohio State lead never got higher than seven points in the half as Iowa would not seem to go away. The Buckeyes held just a 41-38 lead heading into halftime.
That trend continued in the second half – Ohio State managed to stretch the lead a few times, at one point getting it to 11 points, but the Hawkeyes refused die. The countered every Buckeye punch in the third and entered the game's final quarter trailing just 64-58.
Late in the third and early in the fourth, Iowa went on a 12-1 run and took a 66-65 lead with just over 7 minutes left to play. The Buckeyes responded by buckling down on the defensive end, holding the Hawkeyes without a field goal for 6:21 while Kelsey Mitchell scorched nets at the other end. Mitchell scored 13 points in the fourth quarter alone and the Buckeyes left with an 88-81 victory.
The win is Ohio State's seventh in a row, improving its record to 22-5 overall and 11-1 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes head to Lincoln to take on Nebraska Thursday night at 8 p.m. before they host No. 3 Maryland in a game that will likely decide the Big Ten regular season championship.
With the win, the Buckeyes also clinched a top-4 seed and a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.