When Ohio State’s Kierstan Bell stepped to the free throw line with 25 seconds left against No. 2 Louisville on Thursday night, she did so with a smile.
Bell was the crown jewel of the Buckeyes’ recruiting class, and her team was ahead by six points.
After taking a deep breath, the 6-foot-1 guard made the first free throw, nodding as soon as the ball hit the net. After her second one went in, she turned and flexed toward the crowd at Value City Arena.
When the buzzer sounded on Ohio State’s 67-60 win, Bell helped lead the victory mosh pit at center court. A week and a half after shooting themselves out of the game against No. 4 UConn, the Buckeyes finished the job against Louisville.
"It felt pretty good," Bell said of the win. "People were doubting us, but we showed that we could play."
Dorka Juhasz led the Buckeyes with 15 points and was followed closely by Bell’s 14. They were joined in double-figures by Janai Crooms and Rebeka Mikulasikova, who each finished with 11.
"I thought we beat a great team," coach Kevin McGuff said. "As I told the team, if this is the pinnacle of our season, then we didn’t have the season we’re capable of having because we have a long way to go to get better in pretty much all phases of the game."
The win comes after the Buckeyes played tough against the Huskies before falling 73-62 at Value City Arena. Ohio State’s play has been inconsistent as it develops a roster featuring seven freshmen, with unexpected losses this season to Ohio and South Dakota.
Against the Cardinals, the Buckeyes (4-3) took the lead for good on a layup by Bell with 1:45 remaining in the third quarter. The Cardinals (8-1) closed to two points at the start of the fourth quarter on a Dana Evans three-pointer, but after Juhasz hit a jumper, they never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
Evans paced Louisville with 18 points and Bionca Dunham had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Neither team led by more than single digits in the first half, with Louisville’s eight-point lead in the second quarter serving as the largest advantage for either team.
The Buckeyes led 19-17 at the end of the first quarter, thanks in large part to their pace and Juhasz’s five points. Louisville changed that in the second quarter, as the Cardinals went on a 14-2 run to take a 29-21 lead.
Despite outshooting Louisville in the first half, the Buckeyes trailed Louisville 33-31 thanks to 10 first-half turnovers that led to eight Cardinals points.
Juhasz led the Buckeyes with 11 first-half points and Mikulasikova had eight.
The Buckeyes shot 53% from the field, while also putting together a strong showing inside against a lengthy Louisville team.
"We defended and rebounded against one of the best teams in the country," McGuff said. "Really happy with how we played here. I think (the game against UConn) gave us some confidence," McGuff said. I thought the difference tonight was that we executed better down the stretch."
After going 0 of 10 from the field in the Buckeyes’ games against South Dakota and Northern Iowa in Las Vegas last weekend, junior Braxtin Miller finished with nine points despite dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. Miller left the game briefly in the third quarter after landing hard on a foul, but returned to open the fourth quarter.