Senior guard Kelsey Mitchell tweaked her ankle in an overtime win over Michigan on Jan. 7, and through grit and a little bit of ice managed to work past some swelling and play 39 minutes Saturday in a 77-62 win at Indiana.
Saturday, she scored just 15 points and it was enough; the Buckeyes found balance in their offense, and Linnae Harper served as a fine fulcrum.
Following Stephanie Mavunga’s team-high 20 points, Harper had 19 of her own, including 15 in the second half.
Harper, a redshirt senior, is second behind Mitchell in scoring at 15.4 points per game and, heading into No. 8 Ohio State's game Tuesday against No. 19 Michigan, is taking 13.8 shots per game, up 6.1 from last season.
That’s by design. With the graduation of Shayla Cooper and the loss of Kiara Lewis and Tori McCoy to transfer, the 2017 Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year knew her role would change this season, so she planned accordingly.
“I think it’s more so just embracing your role and knowing exactly what you need to do,” Harper said. “We have a lot of experience but not a lot of depth, so it’s just important that we make sure that we’re ready for anything.”
Harper readied herself by working on her outside shot and preparing for contact in the paint. Knowing she often has to work against post players to get to the rim, the 5-foot-8 guard said she performs a few drills with a medicine ball and a pad to work on balancing her core and finishing strong. She also described Monday a shooting drill she does with team manager Ryan Murray to help her prepare for a variety of shots on the move while building endurance.
“We play so fast and we have a lot of key components, so being able to knock down open shots, that’s really important,” she said.
Harper has taken the increased scoring demand in stride. Her three-point shooting percentage has dropped to 30.8 percent from 36.1 percent last season, but her volume of three-point shots will likely triple her total from last year by season’s end. Her overall field goal percentage is up 2.6 percent to 47.2 percent.
Coach Kevin McGuff said having a full nonconference slate of games this season has allowed Harper, who made her OSU debut in December 2016 after transferring from Kentucky, more of a chance to build momentum as a key offensive contributor and keep it throughout Big Ten play.
“It was a really good opportunity for her to get in a good rhythm from the start, which she has,” McGuff said. “She’s a unique player.”