Buckeyes can’t sustain hot start, fall in Big Ten semifinals to Nebraska
By Ben Axelrod
Indianapolis, Ind.- After building a 13-point lead through the first 13 minutes of the game, the No. 14-ranked Ohio State women’s basketball team (25-6, 11-5) looked as if it was poised run away from a Nebraska team that was playing its third game in as many days. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, their momentum soon came to an end and they found themselves on the wrong end of a series of runs that gave the No. 24-ranked Cornhuskers (24-7, 10-6) a 77-62 win over OSU in the Big Ten Tournament’s Semifinals on Saturday.
The Buckeyes’ loss snapped their streak of three-consecutive conference tournament titles and marked the first time that any current member of the OSU roster has lost a game in the Big Ten Tournament.
“I congratulate Nebraska. I thought they played very well,” OSU coach Jim Foster said. “They handled the beginning of the game, kept their heads about them and kept plodding away, executed the way they needed to execute. I think they played a terrific game.”
After a Samantha Prahalis 3-point shot put the Buckeyes up 24-11 with 6:30 remaining in the first half, OSU appeared to be well on its way to its fourth-consecutive Big Ten title game.
But whatever it was that the Buckeyes had going for them in those first 13 minutes of action, it stopped soon after. The Huskers scored 13 consecutive points to tie the game at 24 before a Kaitlyn Burke 3-point shot capped off a 16-0 run to give Nebraska a 27-24 lead with three minutes left in the half.
“It was game‑changing,” Nebraska forward Jordan Hooper said of Burke’s shot. “Her hitting those points gave us all confidence.”
Ultimately, the Huskers closed out the half on a 28-9 run, taking a 36-30 lead into halftime. Nebraska’s big run came with the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year- OSU guard Amber Stokes- on the bench with two fouls.
“We fouled,” Prahalis said, using her fingers to make air quotation marks to express her displeasure with the calls. “We weren't guarding them very well. And they got hot, and they were hitting everything.”
Between a series of foul calls and an evaporated lead, the frustration of the Buckeyes showed as Prahalis picked-up a technical foul for arguing with a referee after a no-call with 56 seconds left in the first half.
“Sammy, on a possession, was hit in the face. And she got angry,” Foster said. “There's no call. And I'm sure she said something she shouldn't have.”
Intermission didn’t do much to cool down the Huskers, who opened up the second half on a 12-2 run to stretch their lead out to a 48-32 advantage. Combined between the two halves, Nebraska ultimately outscored the Buckeyes 40-10 over the course of the course of 10 minutes.
“You want to play well coming out of halftime. And we did that,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “Nothing magical about that. Just our kids were focused and they came out ready and we hit some shots.”
Nebraska led by as many as 19 points and never let the Buckeyes get within more than 13 points in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Prahalis led the Buckeyes with 23 points and freshman Raven Ferguson added a career-high 13 points off the bench, but it wasn’t enough for an OSU team that endured a 2-of-16 shooting performance from outside the 3-point arc and a 4-for-16, 10 point showing from guard Tayler Hill.
“We're not getting good shots. So we're trying to make hard shots,” Prahalis said. “You just gotta get back on track.
Hooper, an All-Big Ten selection, led the Huskers with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Burke added 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, something that Yori attributed to OSU only focusing on Hooper, Emily Cady, and Lindsey Moore on the defensive end.
“What they did essentially they guarded three of our players. And they chose to guard Lindsey hard and Jordan and Emily hard,” Yori said. “Kaitlyn had the big game. So somebody had to do something for us to win, other than those three that they focused on.”
Playing in its first season of Big Ten play, Nebraska will now advance to the Big Ten Championship Game, where it will face the winner of Saturday night’s match-up between No. 9 Penn State (24-5, 13-3) and No. 21 Purdue (22-8, 11-5).
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, will now wait until the March 12 selection show to find out when, where, and against whom their next game will take place. Despite his team having lost three of its past five games, Foster said he’s confident that his team will be prepared for the NCAA Tournament.
“You just get ready for what's next. You don't labor and spend time in negative areas,” Foster said. “You figure it out and you challenge young people to figure it out. We'll provide a lot of information that will help them engage.”