Its business handled efficiently, Ohio State ended Sunday afternoon celebrating a long-sought accomplishment.
The 12th-ranked Buckeyes captured a share of their first Big Ten women’s basketball regular-season championship under Kevin McGuff by routing Rutgers 73-45 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
“We had T-shirts and hats,” McGuff said. “Someone from the Big Ten was there to present the trophy, so we had a really good celebration. The kids were really excited and happy but at the same still focused. We’re happy with this, but we’re hoping this is the start of great things to come in March.”
The Buckeyes enter the postseason with a 25-5 record and on an 11-game winning streak. They finished 15-1 in the Big Ten, tied with Maryland. The Buckeyes will have the No. 1 seed in this week’s conference tournament by virtue of their victory last Monday against the second-ranked Terrapins.
The Buckeyes will play the noon game in the quarterfinals against Iowa or Northwestern on Friday in Indianapolis.
“I’m really happy for our players,” said McGuff, in his fourth season. “We’ve worked incredibly hard this year and our players have really committed to the process of getting better.”
The regular-season championship is the Buckeyes’ first since 2010 and 15th ever.
Junior guard Kelsey Mitchell led all scorers with 21 points. She also had five assists. Shayla Cooper added 12 points and Sierra Calhoun 10. Alexa Hart made 10 rebounds in only 15 minutes.
Rutgers (6-23, 3-13) entered on a nine-game losing streak and didn’t figure to pose much of a threat to the Buckeyes. But Ohio State remembered the feeling of squandering a chance for a Big Ten title last season when it lost its final two league games.
“We really locked in at practice this week,” McGuff said. “We had a great week of practice. Our kids were really focused. We had great intensity. My staff put together a great game plan, and our kids followed it to a T.”
That game plan was to discourage the Scarlet Knights by suffocating them with full-court pressure defense. The Buckeyes forced nine turnovers in the first quarter to take an 18-6 lead.
Ohio State extended the lead to 37-17 at halftime and its lead didn’t slip under 14 in the second half despite a lack of flow on offense.
“That’s one area I’m a little disappointed in because the last month we’ve been really moving the ball extremely well and getting great shots,” McGuff said. “It was just a little stagnant.”
The Buckeyes shot better from three-point range (11 of 25) than they did inside the arc (13 of 35).
Ohio State again played without injured leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Stephanie Muvanga (right foot). McGuff said earlier in the week that he believes there’s a good chance Muvanga will return for the NCAA Tournament.