COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) After a disappointing end to the season and seeing one of their best players go down to an injury in the Big Ten Tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes were in the market for a feel-good win.
They got one Friday in the form of an 88-69 rout of overmatched Buffalo in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes now advance to the next round Sunday against West Virginia, which beat Princeton in the opening game.
Kelsey Mitchell scored 27 points to pace Ohio State, which played without injured guard Ameryst Alston.
Buffalo, which got an automatic tournament bid by winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament, struggled against the larger, sturdier Buckeyes, who were ranked as high as No. 5 nationally this season. OSU rebounded after a late-season swoon that saw them lose three of their last four games and Alston, who was averaging nearly 19 points a game.
”I think that was a reflection of overall our intensity being at a higher level today, and that looked a little more reminiscent of what we’ve done throughout the season, not necessarily the last two weeks,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. ”That’s the thing I enjoyed the most about it. It felt like we got back to playing more like the team we are capable of being.”
The Buckeyes (25-7) hardly needed Alston against overwhelmed Buffalo (20-14). The Bulls rushed out a five-point lead to start the game, but it didn’t last long. The Buckeyes led 48-23 at the half, capping it with a nifty behind-the-back pass from Asia Doss to Makayla Waterman, who laid it in. OSU led by as many as 34 in the second half.
”I just think their length and their size got the better of us for a bit,” Bulls sophomore forward Courtney Wilkins said.
Shayla Cooper contributed 17 points for the Buckeyes, including 4 out of 5 from the foul line. Doss chipped in 16 more.
Joanna Smith led Buffalo with 23 points, despite sitting for a chunk of the second half after picking up her fourth foul. Wilkins added 14, including a team-leading four 3-pointers.
Smith said Mitchell’s play was impressive.
”She’s unstoppable in transition,” Smith said. ”It’s a different speed I can say than anybody I faced in the MAC.”
Ohio State: McGill said Alston could have played in the game, but he’s trying to give her as much rest as possible. She’s wearing a brace on her right wrist after injuring it scrambling for a loose ball in the Big Ten Tournament win over Rutgers March 4. After the game, she had it heavily wrapped in plastic.
Buffalo: The Bulls are truly an international squad. Four players on the roster are from Australia – including sophomore twins Liisa and Katherine Ups – and there’s one each from Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Netherlands. Just two of the players hail from New York.
Ohio State: Making its 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance, with an overall record of 24-22. … The Buckeyes blocked 10 shots against Buffalo and outscored it in the paint 32-18.
Buffalo: Made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State: Plays West Virginia on Sunday in the second round. The winner advances to the regional in Sioux Falls.
Buffalo: Season over.