With freshman Dorka Juhasz easing her way back into the rotation after a two-game absence and Aaliyah Patty saddled with foul trouble, Ohio State needed an inside presence to carry it Thursday night against Illinois.
Fifth-year senior Makayla Waterman did more than fill that role.
Waterman had a solid all-around game with a career-high 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, and Ohio State defeated Illinois 78-70 in front of 3,804 at Value City Arena on Thursday night.
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“I’m a smaller post player, but tonight I felt like I had an advantage against the person guarding me,” Waterman said.
The Buckeyes (9-10, 5-5) once again needed a fourth-quarter rally. They fell behind 51-48 with 9:14 left but went on a 10-0 run to take a seven-point lead with 5:41 remaining.
The Buckeyes then had to fend off a late surge. After two free throws by Adreana Miller gave the Buckeyes a 69-58 lead with 1:12 remaining, Illinois (9-12, 1-9) went on a 10-3 run to cut its deficit to 72-68 with 29 seconds left. Carly Santoro and Waterman iced the game with six free throws.
“We had some stretches where we made a lot of mental errors,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “It’s great that we can learn that lesson off a win, because we really put ourselves in a position that we could have lost this game.”
Santoro shook off some early struggles at the free throw line to score 16 points, and Carmen Grande filled up the stat sheet with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Juhasz made her return after missing two games because of an ankle injury. The 6-foot-4 freshman, the leading scorer and rebounder for the Buckeyes, entered with 5:53 to play in the first. She was held scoreless, missing her first four shots, until she knocked down a three-pointer with 3:58 left in the third that gave the Buckeyes a 46-41 lead. She finished with those three points and five rebounds.
“We needed her tonight,” McGuff said. “Her size and length really bothered them around the basket.”
Patty, who scored a season-high 20 points Monday in a win over Minnesota, was a nonfactor. She played 14 minutes and scored just three points while picking up four fouls.
The Buckeyes made a season-high 12 three-pointers, on 27 attempts. Miller made four of her seven tries and scored 14 points.
“The way they were guarding us, (the three-pointer) was more open than anything else,” McGuff said. “They were crowding the post players.”
Ohio State trailed 18-17 after one quarter, but the Buckeyes scored seven points in the final 57 seconds of the half on two free throws by Waterman, a layup by Janai Crooms and a three-pointer with 4 seconds left by Miller for a 34-26 halftime lead.