Ohio State freshman guard Kierstan Bell smiled and nodded as she backpedaled down the court with less than four minutes remaining Thursday night against Michigan.
Bell knew she had just delivered the play of the game to that point with a no-look pass to Aixa Wone for a layup to give the Buckeyes a five-point lead.
The next possession, Bell fought for the offensive rebound and finished a reverse layup to pad the lead. She just shook her head as her way of saying she couldn’t be stopped.
Ohio State knocked off No. 24 Michigan 78-69 at Value City Arena for its second top-25 win of the season behind Bell’s 15 points and freshman guard Madison Greene’s team-leading 23 points.
Three days after the Buckeyes (9-6, 2-2) took a seven-point halftime lead against the Big Ten favorite in No. 17 Maryland and lost after a sluggish second half, the Buckeyes traded blow for blow with the Wolverines in the second half and fought for a win they felt like they needed at home.
“We’ve been kind of up and down all season, but it feels really good to get this big win,” Greene said.
A day after Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff called Michigan forward Naz Hillmon arguably the best post player in the conference, she earned every bit of that recognition. Ohio State had no answer for Hillmon early, who nearly grabbed as many rebounds (15) as the Buckeyes had defensive rebounds (20).
After Hillmon scored 18 in the first half, McGuff told the team at halftime that if they didn’t stop her, the game was already over. The Buckeyes responded by limiting her to six points in the second half.
Greene’s impact couldn’t be more overstated. She connected on eight of her 10 shots, including two field goals with less than two minutes remaining that each brought Ohio State’s lead back to five. She also iced the game by making all four free throws.
After Hillmon scored a layup off an offensive rebound with 1:29 remaining to trim the Buckeyes’ lead to 70-67, Greene knocked down a runner in the lane. Then with the margin back at three points again, she drove to the basket against Hillmon, faked a shot and moved under her arm and got the shot up and in for the knockout blow.
“She’s just growing by leaps and bounds right before our eyes,” McGuff said. “She’s a great kid, a really high-character kid. Just tonight, her performance in a game of this magnitude was just incredible.”
Ohio State cut down its 25 turnovers against Maryland to nine against Michigan.
McGuff also had two performances from freshmen that have to be counted on for this team to get back to the NCAA Tournament.