The whites of Kelsey Mitchell’s eyes were still red from tears 30 minutes after Ohio State exited the NCAA Tournament with a stunning upset loss to Central Michigan on Monday. Then more reality struck.
What will life be like for the Buckeyes without Mitchell and four other seniors?
Mitchell scored 3,402 points to rank second in Division I. She is No. 1 in career three-pointers with 497, made at least one three-pointer in a record 92 straight games, set 16 Ohio State records and eight Big Ten records.
“We left it better than we found it, and hopefully future generations will make it even better,” Mitchell said after a 95-78 loss at St. John Arena.
Ohio State finished 17-18 in 2013-14, coach Kevin McGuff’s first season, but everything changed for the better when Mitchell arrived from Cincinnati Princeton.
The Buckeyes had records of 24-11, 26-8, 28-7 and 28-7 this past season, made the NCAA Tournament four times, tied for the Big Ten regular-season championship in 2017 and won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles this season.
Mitchell could have signed with just about any team in the nation but dared to be great with a team in rebuilding mode.
“I wanted to go to a place where I could make it better,” she said. “I give all my love to programs like South Carolina, UConn and your Dukes. They have great resumes and history, but I wanted to go to a place and make it like a South Carolina and make it like a UConn. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We accomplished a lot.”
Mitchell didn’t want to talk about the WNBA draft. Her goal was to get the Buckeyes into the Final Four at Nationwide Arena, and the pain of falling way short was too fresh.
“I watched (men’s) teams like Xavier and Virginia lose and cry, and it has happened to us,” she said. “Those teams got shocked and we got shocked.”
McGuff was stoic when asked about losing to a Mid-American Conference team at home.
“As I told them, we’re going to look back and I’m really proud of what we accomplished in winning the Big Ten regular season and winning conference tournament,” he said. “I’m proud of the way these kids handled things on and off the court. These kids are going to do great things in life. Any time you lose there’s a lot of emotion attached to it. It’s tough right now.”
McGuff also will lose seniors Stephanie Mavunga, Alexa Hart, Asia Doss and Linnae Harper. The lone rotation players coming back will be starting guard Sierra Calhoun and reserve forward Makayla Waterman.
Waterman has had two knee reconstruction surgeries, among other physical problems.
“I talked to Coach around the middle of the season and told him that I do plan on coming back providing that I’m healthy,” she said. “I have had a lot of injuries. I’m going to take this loss and deal with it. It’s an incentive for Sierra and me. We’re going to have a really young team next year and we’ll see what we can do with it.”
Waterman was asked if she was ready to be the “big sister” of the team.
“I’ve thought, ‘Oh, my, gosh, I’m going to be the oldest,’ ” she said. “I’m ready for it. It will be an interesting year.”
Ohio State has signed guard Janai Crooms of St. Andrews School in Rhode Island and 6-foot-3 Aaliyah Patty of Montini Catholic in Illinois, and received a commitment from 6-3 Dorka Juhasz of Hungary.