Road problems tanked Ohio State women’s basketball’s chance at Big Ten title
The Ohio State women’s basketball team played itself into the conversation of contenders for a Big Ten regular season title. Then the Buckeyes went on the road.
Since three straight wins against top-15 teams, Ohio State has lost four of seven games, all of which have been on the road, including a 69-67 loss to Penn State (9-12, 6-10) on Wednesday night.
The Buckeyes (13-5, 9-5) are now well outside the Big Ten race after having a head-to-head edge against the three teams currently at the top of the conference — Maryland, Michigan and Indiana. When the Buckeyes look back on the season, will it be games like Wednesday’s that explain why they weren’t competing for a conference title on the last day?
"Yep,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “No question."
Ohio State led by 13 early in the first quarter against the Nittany Lions, but trailed by one at halftime. From the 4:50 mark in the first quarter to the end of the half, the Buckeyes scored just 13 points and never regained their defensive focus.
After shooting less than 30% in the first quarter, Penn State made at least 42% of its field goals in the next three quarters. Makenna Marisa scored the winning bucket with 1:01 remaining.
The Buckeyes were positioned to have a serious shot at playing for a conference title in the final week of the regular season after those three huge wins in January. A loss at ranked Northwestern made that difficult. A loss at 13th-place Wisconsin on Feb. 10 made it nearly impossible, even before losses at Michigan and Penn State.
All five conference losses have come on the road. Three of them — Nebraska being the other loss — have been to teams in the bottom half of the conference.
Forward Dorka Juhasz said she thinks Ohio State has lost some of its toughness.
“I think we were really good on defense and even if we got beat, we were really tough,” she said. “We got those rebounds, we ran back, we got matched up ... I just feel like that kind of fire is kind of missing right now."
Ohio State’s 6-0 home record and 3-5 road record in conference shows up statistically. At Value City Arena, the Buckeyes average 87.7 points per game and have shot 47.5% from the field and 36.5% on three-pointers. Away from home, Ohio State allows nearly eight points fewer per game (69.8), but scores 69.4 points per game and shoots just 36.9% from the field and 26.9% from deep.
With Ohio State’s self-imposed postseason ban earlier this season, the Buckeyes can only play for pride without a conference tournament and NCAA Tournament on the horizon.
They host No. 11 Indiana on Saturday, hoping to spoil the Hoosiers' bid for a regular-season Big Ten title.
"It's tough. It's tough knowing that there's not a Big Ten tournament, there's not a postseason after it that we can look forward to,” Juhasz said. “I think we just have to show up and have to finish the season how we want it and how we started this Big Ten conference."