CINCINNATI – A key contributor’s ankle injury turned out to be a sprain, early foul trouble to Ohio State’s second leading scorer didn’t make the difference in the end and an aggressive Cincinnati team eventually showed a few weaknesses.

No. 13 Ohio State was fortunate in more ways than one Sunday in front of 1,072 at St. Ursula Academy, outlasting Cincinnati 87-76 to earn its fourth straight victory in what might be senior guard Kelsey Mitchell’s final collegiate game in her hometown.

“Even though we won, it was a game where we didn’t play like a top-25 team, a top, elite team,” said Mitchell, a Princeton High School alumna, who led the Buckeyes with 31. “We didn’t play like that.”

In order for a team with a small rotation to run properly, it needs to avoid foul trouble, injuries and cold shooting spells. Ohio State faced all three in the first half but took a 38-37 lead into the break.  

Redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga picked up her second foul just 3:37 into the game and played a mere 10 minutes over the first two quarters.

Less than three minutes later, redshirt junior forward Makayla Waterman gave the Buckeyes a 13-12 lead on a layup but landed awkwardly on a Cincinnati defender. Waterman required help from a pair of Ohio State staffers to get to the locker room and was diagnosed with a left ankle sprain. She did not return and sported a boot and crutches post-game.

“I think fine,” coach Kevin McGuff said, asked about Waterman. “I think we dodged a bullet. Knock on wood, but I’m pretty sure we dodged a bullet.”

With a smaller rotation, the Buckeyes lacked their usual rhythm and shot just 38 percent in the first half, never leading by more than six.

The early erratic play, McGuff said, stemmed from the Buckeyes (11-2) trying to make spectacular plays and getting away from their typical strengths.

“They wanted to get this big lead right away. Well, it doesn’t work like that,” McGuff said. “You’ve got to stay focused and disciplined and keep doing the things that make us good and the rest will take care of itself.”

Sierra Calhoun and Mitchell hit back-to-back threes to give the Buckeyes a 47-40 lead in the opening minute of the third quarter and force a Cincinnati timeout, setting the tone in a quarter in which Ohio State (11-2) created a 69-56 lead and a sliver of breathing room.

Calhoun scored 14 of her 20 points in the third quarter, Mitchell 12 of her 31. Linnae Harper finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds and Shanice Johnson had 17 to pace the Bearcats (7-5).

Before traveling to Nebraska Dec. 28 for its Big Ten opener, Ohio State has more than a week to dissect a performance that, for the most part, it would rather forget.

“The more games we have, the more situations we’ll see and more importantly, the more mature I’ll be and the more I can put my team in position to be as calm as possible and as poised as possible,” Mitchell said.