Kelsey Mitchell doesn’t much like hyperbole, accolades or pats on the back.
“I’m not too much on the hype side,” she said.
But reflecting on her team’s preparation, focus and fight leading up to Monday night, even the even-keeled junior All-American had to admit there were elements of Ohio State’s 98-87 Big Ten win over Maryland at Value City Arena that amounted to “something great.”
“Not that it’s the end, or not that it’s like we actually won something, but you do feel relieved that you finally, not accomplished something great, but accomplished something great at the same time,” she said, laughing. “It’s a relief for ourselves, for our team, for individuals, for you guys (the media), you finally see us do something good for a change.”
Ohio State’s response to its worst stretch of the game was what made coach Kevin McGuff most proud of his team.
An offensive rebound and layup by Linnae Harper with 3:38 to go in the third quarter gave the 12th-ranked Buckeyes (24-5, 14-1) a 68-52 lead.
It was one of Value City Arena’s loudest moments of the season.
It also was precisely when the Terrapins (26-2, 14-1) showed why they entered the game as the nation’s second-ranked and highest-scoring team.
Destiny Slocum made two three-pointers and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who led Maryland with 29 points, had five over a punishing, reality-inducing 14-0 run to close the third.
The Buckeyes had plenty of opportunities to give up the lead in the fourth quarter. A layup by Brionna Jones cut the lead to 70-68 in the opening minute and the Terrapins drew within four with 5:09 to play as freshman forward Tori McCoy picked up her fifth foul.
But Ohio State punched back with three straight baskets from Harper, Mitchell and Alexa Hart to push the lead to 10. The Terrapins didn’t get closer than six points in the final three minutes and the Buckeyes closed out their 10th straight win with excitement but little drama.
“We had plenty of opportunities to go away when they really made that impressive run, but our kids stuck together,” McGuff said. “We got back to executing, we made some stops, we got some steals which allowed us to get in transition and turn the game back in our favor.”
Mitchell scored 15 of her game-high 31 points in a blistering first quarter in which Ohio State scored 35 points. Also finishing in double figures were Sierra Calhoun (11 points), Harper (11 points), Hart (15 points), and Cooper (20 points, nine rebounds, five assists), who had a personal cheering section of more than a dozen for her Senior Night.
“When the ball is moving like that, it’s so beautiful. It’s like an orchestra out there,” Cooper said. “It’s like soft jazz music. It’s just a beautiful sight.”
Asked whether Monday’s win was his biggest in four seasons at Ohio State, McGuff paused for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a big one. We beat a great team.”