Ohio State redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga stopped short of calling an 84-75 loss to Michigan a “wakeup call,” but it was “frustrating,” she said.
“Like any competitor, no one wants to lose and so I’d say that we just did that to ourselves, to be honest,” said Mavunga, who led Ohio State with 21 points. “We dug ourselves in a hole and then ever since then it’s hard to pick back out. We can’t just come out third quarter thinking, ‘Oh, things are sweet.’”
The game soured for the No. 8 Buckeyes in the second half. After holding a 41-36 lead at half despite getting only 11 first-half minutes from senior guard Kelsey Mitchell due to foul trouble, Ohio State went just 10 for 39 over the final two quarters, including 3 for 17 in the third quarter, to take their first loss of 2018.
Perhaps it wasn’t unexpected: Ohio State (16-3, 5-1 Big Ten) started out Big Ten play with five straight wins, but all five came by less than 20 points and just one — a 91-75 win over Minnesota — truly had the feeling of a blowout from start to finish. That’s not to say Ohio State needs to or will be able to dismantle every Big Ten team it faces, but the start served as an indicator that the Buckeyes are likely to get a good or bad team’s best on a nightly basis.
From a top-25 team like No. 19 Michigan, that best is solid — on Tuesday, the Wolverines shot 53.7 percent and held a plus-13 rebounding margin — and the Buckeyes couldn’t match it.
“If you’re not mentally ready and you don’t prepare mentally to play the game the right way, you’re gonna be vulnerable,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “Michigan was fired up; they came in and played well and we didn’t have a good night and you’re not gonna win the game at that point.”
McGuff took issue more with his team’s mental errors than their physical effort throughout the game. Ohio State forcing 21 Michigan turnovers told him the effort was fine.
“I thought we played hard, it’s just mentally we weren’t good enough tonight,” he said.
The Buckeyes were guilty Tuesday, Mavunga said, of trying to do too much in a game in which they shot just 36.1 percent.
“We have some things that are wide open and instead we’re in such a rush. We have to put that on us, me especially. I did that a lot of times,” she said. “Having just wide open lanes and then the next thing I know, I’m doing so much and it’s like, ‘Sheesh. It was right there, there was an open bucket.’ Credit to Michigan. They played good defense and they played it well.”
The Wolverines held the Buckeyes to 36.1 percent from the floor — their lowest percentage since a Nov. 30 loss to Duke, in which they shot 32.4 percent — just nine days after holding them to 64 points in regulation.
Michigan's problem in that game, a 78-71 Ohio State win, was an overtime period in which Kelsey Mitchell took over and Ohio State outscored Michigan 14-7. But, looking back on the game, coach Kim Barnes Arico said Michigan made things tough for Mitchell for much of their first meeting, too.
“I think both games, we were able to do (defend) and then in overtime Kelsey kind of took over and the last couple minutes of regulation in the first game, she took over,” she said. “But we’ve done a pretty good job of (disrupting Mitchell). We just try to build as many people around her as possible.”
A key to Michigan’s success was forward Jillian Dunston, who didn’t have a point Tuesday but spent long stretches guarding Mitchell and keeping the star guard from finding her rhythm.
“I talk about her all the time because she doesn’t always show up in the box score in terms of how many points she scores, but she has the assignment every time of guarding the other team’s best player and she really steps up to that challenge,” Barnes Arico said of Dunston. “Tonight was another example of that.”