INDIANAPOLIS --As the saying goes, "Sometimes 'Stuff' Happens."
And, boy, it sure did happen in the opening game of the second round of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis Friday. The 8-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes (17-17) pulled the upset of the tournament -- and perhaps the surprise of all the conference tournaments currently underway across the country -- by beating top-seeded Penn State, 99-82 .
As it has for the past three years, Penn State, the eleventh-ranked team in the country in both of this week's major national polls, won the Big Ten regular-season championship, finishing with a 22-6 overall record and tied for first-place with Michigan State at 13-3 in conference play. But the Lady Lions' luck has not held up when the annual conference tournament rolls around. The pregame chatter here in Indianapolis was all about how this could just the year when Penn State would win its first tournament title since 1996.
Not so fast, my friend.
This, the first game of the Big Ten quarterfinals, should have been a classic example of a team that is “there” against a team that is still on its way. Penn State (now 22-7 with today's loss) started four seniors and one junior, including Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas and first-team All-Big Ten guard/forward Ariel Edwards. The eighth-seeded Buckeyes, winners of a hard-fought, 86-77 contest Northwestern in Thursday's opening round, field just two seniors, only one of whom is a regular member of the starting line-up and neither of whom averages as many as nine points per game. The Buckeyes are led instead by All-Big Ten sophomore guard Ameryst Alston (19 ppg). Alsotn's only colleague in the double-digit scoring column is junior guard Raven Ferguson, who averages 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, coming mostly off the bench. Everyone else is a work in progress.
Add to that the fact that the Buckeyes were dead last from 3-point range (30.4 percent) in conference play, while the Lady Lions ranked third at 36.8. Then throw in a nearly nine-rebound per game average advantage for Penn State (44.1 rbg to OSU’s 35.7), and game plan for Big Ten Coach of the Year Coquese Washington’s squad becomes obvious: Make OSU head coach Kevin McGuff’s team chuck ‘em from the cheap seats, and then go crash the boards.
So much for statistics and scouting reports. On this day, the Buckeyes liked the cheap seats. In fact, they liked them a lot. They lit up the nets at an incredible pace, jumped out to an early lead and never let up. Their offense was so good that Penn State’s Lucas, whose two (of six) longballs in this game brought her career record to 358, breaking both her school's and the Big Ten's all-time three-point scoring records, became almost an afterthought.
Ohio State hit an unbelievable 8-10 three-pointers over Penn State’s 2-3 zone to establish an early 28-18 edge. Washington chose to keep her team in the zone until the second media timeout, hoping that the pregame statistics would win out. She defended that tactical error after the game:
“(Ohio State) was a tough match-up for us man-to-man,” Washington said. “We did not want to (do that).”
Eventually forced to turn to man-defense, Washington watched while the Buckeyes simply took the game inside, scoring twice in a row on layups on their first two tries. At the third media time out of the half, OSU was shooting at an amazing 78 percent, including 9-12 long-rangers. Penn State was responding at a 60 percent clip, normally enough to have a commanding lead. However, they were down, 27-37.
“That was honestly ridiculous,” said Buckeye sophomore Cait Craft. “We have not shot that well in a game or even in a practice that I can remember. At the beginning of the game a few of us made some shots and that got everyone started.”
Craft's remark was no understatement. The 5-8 guard, a starter, averages just 8.5 points per game on 36.9-percent shooting from the floor and 31.1 percent from downtown. On this day, Craft poured in 24 points on 57.1-percent shooting both from the field (8-14) and from beyond the arc (4-7).
The rain of treys gave Alston, who drained five of her own six three-point attempts (83.3 percent) the opportunity to play her favorite style. “I’m a driver,” she said. “Teams try to play off me. When I hit a couple of threes early, it let us go to our bread and butter, which is driving.”
Penn State began to get frustrated as the Buckeye shooting show continued. It seemed like the entire Ohio State team was “in the zone,” led by Alston, who finished with 33 points, and Craft. The Lady Lions began taking quicker shots and looking to the officials for help as the first half wound down. But everything continued to go the Buckeyes' way, and OSU led, 58-34, at halftime. Penn State had never seen this kind of shooting exhibition. The Lady Lions had allowed an average of only 66 points for an entire game during conference play, but the Buckeyes had already amassed nearly that many as they headed to the locker room at intermission. By the end of the first half, OSU had dominated in nearly every statistical category, outshooting Penn State 72 percent to 46 percent and outreboundeding them 16-8. In 10 attempts during the opening stanza, they hadn't missed a single three.
McGuff slowed the pace down in the second half, but the shooting onslaught continued. Craft dished to Alston for a layup that expanded the Buckeye lead to its widest margin, 67-40, at the 16:35 mark. Thirty seconds later, after Candice Agee and Ariel Edwards, tallied three points for Penn State from the charity stripe, OSU's Ferguson answered with another layup to make it a 26-point advantage.
But that's when PSU started to rally, as determination turned to desperation on defense, forcing the Buckeyes into unforced turnovers and missed shots. Ferguson's would be the last field goal for the Buckeyes for nearly three minutes as the Lions gradually began to chip away at the deficit. Though much of the scoring was coming at the foul line, a scoop layup-and-one by Lucas closed the gap to 75-59 with a little under eight minutes to go. The Lady Lions whittled away a little more, pulling to 85-74 at the 3:17 mark as fatigue began to take its toll on the Buckeyes. Washington began a foul-and-extend strategy but the Buckeyes held on for the upset.
For those who enjoy interpreting body language, the Penn State players were a fascinating read in the second half. As Ohio State fought off the Lady Lion comeback efforts, Penn State began to look simply shell-shocked. The players on the bench looked like they didn’t believe what they were seeing. As the half wore on, the confusion turned back to frustration and the Lady Lions did not handle the frustration well. Several times it seemed quite clear that they were unhappy with each other as they began bickering among themselves.
For the game, the Buckeyes finished 10-18 from beyond the arc and shot 62.1 percent from the floor. Penn State, forced to play in panic mode for most of the game, managed only three-of-15 from three-point land and 36.6 percent overall.
Ohio State was led by Alston’s 33 points, which brought her tally for her two tournament games to 63 points and represented the fourth time in her last six games she put up over 30 points.Craft added 24 and Raven Ferguson 15. Edwards scored 29 for the Lady Lions and Lucas added 21. Nine of Lucas' 21 points (and 27 of her team's total for the day), came from the foul line, which was pretty much the only place where Lucas or the Lions shot the ball well (Lucas went nine-for 11, or 81.8 percent at the stripe where PSU as a team made 27 of their 35 attempts, for a 78.6-percent success rate.) Elsewhere, the rest of Lucas’ 21 points came on 5-16 shooting and for much of the game Craft’s defense simply took her out of the action. Even as Penn State rallied in the second half, its field-goal shooting percentage dropped to 29.3 percent from the floor (36.6 percent for the game as a whole) and a mere 20 percent from three-point range for both the half and the ball game.
It was one of the more effective uses of the box and one seen recently.
And, oh yeah, rebounding? Buckeyes 38, Lady Lions 37.
But heck, if you can shoot that well, who needs rebounding?
Tournament records set: Most total points in a game, 181; Most points by one team, 99; Most points scored in a half, 58; Highest shooting percentage game, 62.1 percent, for the Buckeyes, of course.
And by the way, Maggie Lucas broke the all-time Big Ten scoring record set by by Kelly Mazzante from 2001-2004, but I doubt that the league's best sharpshooter feels much like celebrating that very real accomplishment right now.
- 2014 Big Ten Tournament Preview: Young talent on display
- 2014 Big Ten Tournament Round-One Wrap: Gophers survive OT to advance
- No. 23/RV Hawkeyes knock off No. 17/16 Boilermakers in Round Two of Big Ten Tourney