Riding a seven-game losing streak, the prospects didn’t look good for the Penn State women’s basketball team heading into Sunday’s clash with Ohio State.
And without leading scorer Lindsey Spann, who was sidelined by the flu, those chances didn’t get an better.
The Lady Lions responded with a game effort, but fell short again in a 69-60 loss against the Buckeyes.
Penn State (3-15 overall, 0-7 Big Ten) outshot Ohio State (39 to 36 percent), had more points in the paint (36 to 26) and more fastbreak points (16-4).
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The difference in the contest came outside and inside. The Buckeyes had a 9-1 edge in 3-pointers and a 17-5 edge in second-chance points. Freshman sensation Kelsey Mitchell had five 3-pointers, while classmate Alexa Hart grabbed nine of the Buckeyes’ 19 offensive rebounds.
“We have to rebound better,” Lady Lions coach Coquese Washington said. “Ohio State did a good job on the boards. Alexa Hart was a beast on the boards for them inside. ... She really made a difference.”
Mitchell and Ameryst Alston also made a huge impact for the Buckeyes (12-7, 4-3). Mitchell had 21 points, while Alston added 18, though Penn State’s 2-3 zone held each nearly four points under their scoring average.
“We’re a zone team,” Washington said. “We’re going to play it and try to keep the pace at where we want it. Their backcourt is really talented. Mitchell and Alston are two of the best in the country. They got their points, but we felt like we made them take tough shots.”
Penn State led by as many as five points (12-7) early in the first half and went ahead 24-21 on Sierra Moore’s layup with 6:15 left in the half.
Mitchell then had five points in a 10-0 run that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. Penn State got as close as two points, but Cait Craft’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Ohio State a 36-30 lead at halftime.
The Lady Lions closed within 38-34 early in the second half, but Asia Doss and Kelsey Mitchell each nailed 3-pointers in a 14-2 outburst that pushed the lead to 16 points (52-36) with 12:16 left.
So many times this season, a similar deficit has spiraled out of control for the Lady Lions.
Not this time.
Moore, Tori Waldner, Kaliyah Mitchell and Candice Agee had consecutive baskets as Penn State closed to within 57-51 with 61/2 minutes left.
“They are learning how to respond to other team’s runs,” Washington said. “We’re making progress.”
But Penn State netted just three baskets from there. Hart went to work on the offensive glass and helped the Buckeyes pull away down the stretch. Her offensive rebound and basket with 2:07 left gave Ohio State a 69-58 lead.
The 6-foot-3 Hart finished with 15 rebounds.
“They were big, but they were kind of slow so I had to use my quickness and athleticism against them,” Hart said.
“Alexa had a fantastic day on the glass,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “She really competed hard. That’s how we’re going to have to rebound night-in and night-out to be successful.”
Spann, who was limited in Thursday’s 73-45 loss to Nebraska, was dressed but did not get off the bench Sunday.
“Her fever didn’t break until (Sunday) morning,” Washington said. “She didn’t practice all week and she was too weak to play.”
Kaliyah Mitchell stepped into Spann’s spot in the lineup and performed well. Mitchell had 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals and played a career-high 39 minutes..
“Kaliyah knew coming into the game that she was going to have to handle the ball more and bring it up the court,” Washington said. “She had to step out of her comfort zone and I thought she did a good job.”
Moore led the Lady Lions with 16 points and added nine rebounds and five assists. Agee had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Agee also blocked four shots.
Kelsey Mitchell, the nation’s leading scorer, went 7 for 20 from the field, including 5 for 14 from 3-point range.
“She’s an incredible talent,” Washington said of the Ohio State freshman. “Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot more games where we have to figure out how to slow her down because you can’t stop that kid.”
Washington said she “absolutely” saw progress from her squad Sunday. The Lady Lions look to end their eight-game skid at home Thursday, with a 7 p.m. clash against Indiana (12-5, 2-4).
Notes: Sunday’s loss was the Lady Lions’ first under double digits in conference play. ... With 66 career blocks, Agee is now 19th on the Penn State career list. ... Penn State is now 36-23 all-time against Ohio State. ... Thanks to Spann’s illness, Penn State had its seventh different starting lineup of the season. ... The Lady Lions got just two points off the bench. ... Kelsey Mitchell had her sixth game this season with at least five 3-pointers.