Stephanie Mavunga pondered earlier this week where she felt Ohio State had changed the most over its first 24 games.

Perhaps in team chemistry or on defense, she answered, but the changes have been subtle over a long season. And a 30-plus game season is a marathon, she said, not a sprint.

The Buckeyes aren’t quite in the home stretch – they still have more than month of basketball left before they have to think in detail about NCAA Tournament seeds – but on Thursday, in a 90-68 win over Rutgers in front of 4,505 at Value City Arena, they sprinted with ease. 

No. 13 Ohio State (20-5, 9-3 Big Ten) flexed a transition offense that had Rutgers (18-8, 6-6) on the ropes from the middle of the second quarter, setting the tone – and more importantly the pace – early in the Buckeyes’ fourth straight double-digit win.

“It was certainly a point of emphasis,” coach Kevin McGuff said of speed in transition. “They’re a great defensive team and I thought to kind of negate that we had to get out in transition and try to get some easy baskets. Our kids did a great job of running the floor.”

Redshirt junior forward Makayla Waterman missed Thursday’s game with a strained neck and the Buckeyes missed her, losing the rebounding battle 40-32 despite 13 rebounds from Stephanie Mavunga. But yet another sound defensive performance allowed Ohio State to sustain its pace in transition.

McGuff called his first timeout with 2:01 left in the first after Rutgers’ Tyler Scaife hit a wide-open three to cut Ohio State’s lead to 16-15.

The Buckeyes’ defense tightened, allowing just two field goals over the next eight minutes and less than 70 points over four quarters for the fourth straight game. Both in defensive effort and execution, Ohio State continues to separate itself from a three-game losing streak last month.

“It just feels like we have a little bit more focus and intensity in what we’re doing,” McGuff said. “The results are reflective of that.”

A high-energy defense fed a confident offense, as the Buckeyes shot 56.1 percent, their highest game shooting percentage since Nov. 24.

Senior guard Kelsey Mitchell was an efficient 10-for-13 for a team-high 28 points. Linnae Harper had 15, Alexa Hart and Mavunga 12 each. Sierra Calhoun made five of her seven shots, scoring 17 points to match her highest output of 2018.

 “My teammates were finding me and I was just knocking them down,” she said.

Rutgers entered Thursday with the Big Ten’s best scoring defense at 57.1 points per game. Ohio State nearly cleared that average in the first half, taking a 51-30 lead into halftime.

Their lead didn’t dip below 16 in the second half.

Before the final sprint of its Big Ten season commences, Ohio State heads to Tampa on Sunday for its final nonconference game of the regular season against South Florida.