The Buckeyes dominated an over-matched North Carolina A&T team from the tip, but they had to do it without a few key members.
Shayla Cooper and Chelsea Mitchell were suspended for today's game for "conduct detrimental to the team." Mark Mitchell, an Ohio State assistant coach and father of both Kelsey and Chelsea Mitchell, was also suspended for "a personal matter" and was not on the bench for the game. Head coach Kevin McGuff declined to comment on the matter after the game.
Cooper started all eight previous games for the Buckeyes, and has been the team's most consistent player in the paint. The junior forward is averaging 10.9 points and 9.3 rebounds this year and leads the team with two double-doubles on the season.
Kianna Holland also missed today's game after playing just her third game of the season last week against Cincinnati. The freshman captain has been sidelined much of the season with soreness in her surgically repaired knee. Her status remains unchanged, according to Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff. "We're just trying to go day to day with her to make sure we continue to put her in a good position for the long run."
Despite the key absences, the Buckeyes rolled.
Shouldering the load down low, Alexa Hart recorded a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds and swatted three shots. After a slow start to the season, the sophomore finally looks like the same dominant post player she was towards the end of last season.
"I just finally found my rhythm," said Hart after the game. "(I'm just) doing the little things – finally moving around instead of just being stationary."
With the absence of Holland, the suspension of Mitchell and the departure of Kaylan Pugh, Asia Doss also saw heavy minutes.
"I thought Asia had as good of a game as she's had all year," said McGuff after the game. The sophomore finished with 11 points and five assists, but her impact on the game far exceeded her relatively modest individual stat-line.
While Doss was on the court, the Buckeyes outscored the Aggies by a staggering 50 points – which appeared to be a result of her work on the defensive end.
"We seemed to turn them over more when she was on the court," said McGuff. "We were able to get in transition and score."
The win may have come easy, but there were still teachable moments. The team had what McGuff called a "terrible" third quarter, which he used to test his young team.
"I didn't call a timeout in the third quarter because I wanted to see if our upperclassmen could get everybody settled down," said McGuff.
They did. After being outscored and outplayed in the third quarter, the Buckeyes dominated the fourth, allowing just five points to their 22.
Ohio State has just two non-conference games left against Princeton and Virginia before beginning its rigorous conference slate against Michigan State on New Years Eve.
With the grueling schedule the Buckeyes have faced so far, it's hard to imagine there's a more prepared team in the country as we head into conference play.