How does a team that shot 29 percent, averaged 48 points and lost by 20 or more points in two regular-season losses light up the scoreboard for 99 points against you in the third meeting?
That’s one of the many questions Penn State’s players must answer after a Fridayafternoon clash at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Led by 32 points from Ameryst Alston and 24 from Cait Craft, Ohio State blistered Penn State’s defense as the eighth-seeded Buckeyes stunned the top-seeded Lady Lions 99-82 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The eighth-seeded Buckeyes (17-17), who shot 62 percent for the game and broke a tournament scoring record, next face fifth-seeded Iowa, which knocked off two-time defending tournament champion Purdue 87-80 on Friday.
Ariel Edwards had a career-high 29 points and Maggie Lucas had 21 for the Lady Lions (22-7), who fell to 1-6 all-time as the tournament’s top seed.
“It was a tough game all-around,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “We just didn’t play well on either end of the floor. We had a couple of people who had bright spots here and there, but collectively it wasn’t a good outing for us. Ohio State had a lot to do with that with the way that they played with their intensity and aggressiveness.”
Penn State never recovered from Ohio State’s blazing start against a 2-3 zone that had held the Buckeyes to 42 and 54 points in a pair of Lady Lion regular-season romps. Led by four from Alston and three from Craft, Ohio State nailed 8 of its first 10 3-point attempts.
With the score tied at 16-16 six minutes into the game, the Buckeyes drilled four 3-pointers in a 14-2 run that gave them the lead for good.
“That was our focus --- to come out hard,” Alston said. “Nobody wants to go home. We’re playing every game like it’s a championship game. We were hitting as a team and it becomes contagious. That helped a lot.”
“Our defensive intensity was low to start the game,” Lady Lion guard Dara Taylor said. “They really came out strong, hot and executed. We weren’t pumping or moving quick enough in the zone and they got a lot of open looks.
“Our energy was low,” added Edwards. “We didn’t come out the way we needed to and they took advantage of it.”
The Buckeyes hardly looked like a team that was last in the league in scoring (65.2), 10th in 3-point percentage (32.1) and 11th in 3-pointers per game (4.7). They also were on fire in an 86-77 opening round win over Northwestern.
“The key when you come into a game like this in a tournament format is that you play extremely hard because it’s win or go home, but also that you’re loose and your players are enjoying it and they don’t have the weight of the world on them,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “We certainly played that way.”
The Buckeyes’ hot start forced Penn State to come out of its zone and opened driving lanes for Alston and Raven Ferguson, who took advantage.
Thanks to Edwards, Penn State was still within 43-30, but the Buckeyes closed out the half on a 15-4 run. Alston had nine, including a 3-pointer with four seconds left, as Ohio State took a commanding 58-34 lead at the break.
The Buckeyes went 23 for 32 (72 percent) from the floor in the half, including 10 for 14 (71 percent) from 3-point range.
“That was honestly ridiculous,” said Craft, who was averaging eight points per game before Friday. “It seemed like at the beginning that nobody could miss. I don’t think that’s ever happened in a stretch of practice or a game this year.”
“We had a hard time containing them in the man-to-man and when they started out they were on fire from the 3-point line,” Washington said. “We struggled to guard them man-to-man and once they got their confidence up shooting the ball they were in their rhythm and it was hard to get them out of it.”
The Buckeyes didn’t make a 3-pointer in the second half and only attempted four. They were 13 of 22 from 2-point range in the half.
“In the second half they had to speed the game up and play man and try to force us into some turnovers,” McGuff said. “They were guarding the 3-point line pretty well in the second half in man, but it did allow us to get to the basket with dribble penetration. I thought we got a lot of great shots. They just weren’t 3-point shots.”
The lead grew as high as 67-40 early in the second half and stayed above 20 until the Lady Lions made a push with eight minutes to go.
Lucas, scoreless for more than 25 minutes, got the comeback rolling. She had 12 points in a little more than four minutes. Peyton Whitted’s 3-pointer brought the Lady Lions within 86-77 with just 2:56 left, but the Lady Lions would get no closer.
The Buckeyes made 9 of 10 free throws from there to halt the rally.
Alston, who was 10 for 33 against the Lady Lions in the regular season, finished 12 for 15 as she recorded her second 30-point game of the tournament.
“She was more aggressive and she had some help,” Washington said. “When you have other people who are able to step up and make shots, it makes it easier for her.”
In addition to Craft, Ferguson (15), Darryce Moore (11) and Ashley Adams (11) score in double figures for the Buckeyes.
“I said it a lot of times that if we can get everybody playing their best at the same time we could have something special,” McGuff said. “That’s basically what you saw.”
Edwards added 10 rebounds, but her double-double was tempered by the outcome.
“She did a lot of good things out there for us, but it’s hard to be positive about individual performances when as a team we did not defend well,” Washington said.
And Washington is concerned. For the second time in three games, the Lady Lions gave up more than 90 points and were killed from long distance. Nebraska was 16 of 22 from 3-point range in a 94-74 win on Feb. 24.
“I’m concerned about our defense, certainly,” Washington said. “We’ve got to grow in that area if we’re going to have any success in the NCAA Tournament. We’re going to have to be able to guard.
“I don’t what lessons we’re going to take away from this,” she added. “It’s too early for me to pull them out, yet. Certainly, we know we’ve got to defend better. You can’t give up 100 points in tournament play and expect to have much success. That’s definitely going to be an increased point of emphasis moving forward.”
The Lady Lions must now wait to see how much the loss will cost them with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The pairings will be announced on March 17 and the Lady Lions will host the first two rounds at the Bryce Jordan Center on March 23 and 25.
“We don’t have any control over that,” Washington said of the seeding process. “It’s not going to be a positive. Whatever our NCAA seeding is, we’ll take it. Once you get past the first round, anything can happen. You’ve got to play good teams. It doesn’t matter what your seed is.”