Ohio State was game for a half but eventually succumbed to the superior firepower of the Penn State women’s basketball team on Sunday afternoon.
The eighth-ranked Lady Lions erased an 11-point deficit in the second half and remained unbeaten in Big Ten play with a 71-56 win in Columbus.
For 20 minutes, the season-high crowed of 6,802 had a lot to cheer about at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes closed the first half on a 10-0 run to go into the locker room leading 37-28.
Things changed drastically in the second half, however, as Penn State outscored the hosts 22-6 in the first eight minutes after intermission.
Five different Lions contributed to the spurt with star wing Maggie Lucas leading the way with seven while center Nikki Greene and point guard Alex Bentley added four apiece.
Bentley’s jumper capped the sequence with 12:05 to go and left Penn State leading 50-43.
The Buckeyes (11-9, 1-6) drew within five twice in the last 12 minutes but never got closer.
The first came when Tayler Hill followed Bentley’s basket with a pair of free throws to make it 50-45, but the Lions rattled off eight of the next 10 to open up an 11-point advantage.
A three-point play by Ohio State’s Darryce Moore and a three-point basket by Hill pulled the Buckeyes to within 58-53 at the 6:29 mark, but Penn State responded with four free throws by Ariel Edwards and a putback basket by Greene to put down the last threat.
Hill led all scorers with 28 points, including 18 in the first half. Ameryst Alston scored 12 points, but the freshman point guard was the only other consistent scoring threat for the Buckeyes aside from Hill. That pair combined to go 11 for 27 from the field while the rest of the Buckeyes were 7 for 24.
Lucas led Penn State with 18 while Bentley added 16 and Greene had 11.
“At halftime coach really got into us, really challenged us,” said Bentley, a first-team All-Big Ten guard last season who looks ticketed for such honors again this year as a senior. “She was yelling and screaming. We knew we had to come out and play our defense so that’s what we did.”
That included picking the Buckeyes up full court, trapping them in the halfcourt and hedging hard on screens.
“That was the plan in the first half. We just were a little hard-headed and didn’t get into (our defensive game plan), but in the second half we took to heart what coach said. We got into them, got in their shorts and played our defense.”
Ohio State head coach Jim Foster seemed to think the Buckeyes allowed themselves to be easier to guard in the second half after they shot 39.4 percent (13 for 33) in the first half and went 4 for 8 from three-point range in the opening 20 minutes.
“We spread them better in the first half,” said Foster, whose team made only 5 of 18 field goals (27.8 percent) and went 1 for 5 from beyond the arc in the second. “We spaced the floor better. We got to spots and we moved the ball better in the first half. We stopped doing that in the second half.”
What is shaping up to be the worst season in a decade continued for the Buckeyes, who lost for the sixth time in seven games. With nine conference games left, Ohio State has equaled its highest Big Ten loss total since an 8-8 campaign in 2002. The Buckeyes were 10-6 in 10-6 in 2003 (Foster’s first season in Columbus) and again in 2011.
The loss to the defending conference champion Lady Lions (17-2, 7-0) dropped the Buckeyes into a last-place tie with Wisconsin. The Badgers – who beat Ohio State 68-45 in Madison a week earlier – are idle this weekend.