Ohio State women’s basketball sat idle Thursday as Michigan knocked off Maryland, clinching the Buckeyes at least a share of their second straight Big Ten regular season title.
On Sunday at Penn State, the Buckeyes showed little interest in sharing.
Running in transition with blistering pace, dominating on the glass and playing attentive defense throughout, the No. 14 Buckeyes cruised to an 89-64 victory, clinching an outright Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The win made eight straight in Big Ten play for Ohio State, whose outlook has changed considerably since a 5-3 start to conference play that featured consecutive losses to Michigan, Maryland and Iowa.
"I would talk to them about, ‘Hey, every season’s going to have its highs and lows and the Big Ten conference is as good as it’s ever been,’" coach Kevin McGuff said. "The key for us was just perseverance, continuing to hang in there and fight and scratch and claw and I really felt like we could end up in a great place."
Ohio State (24-6, 13-3 Big Ten) will get Monday and Tuesday off before preparing for the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament, in which the Buckeyes will play the winner of Rutgers and Purdue on Friday at noon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis
The Buckeyes led by 10 or more points for the final 27:21 Sunday but were at their sharpest over the first six minutes of the third quarter. Linnae Harper and Kelsey Mitchell hit shots and the Buckeyes found Stephanie Mavunga for high-percentage chances and ran the floor with ease off Penn State misses.
As the third quarter dragged on, so did the Buckeyes’ run, which grew from 7-0 to 12-2 to 17-5, a Mavunga layup from Harper with 5:08 remaining giving Ohio State a 59-32 lead.
Only a few points mattered in a lopsided second half. Mitchell made a free throw with 44.1 seconds left in the third quarter to reach 3,284 points, passing former Baylor star Brittney Griner for No. 3 on the NCAA Division I career scoring list.
Mitchell scored 22 Sunday, placing her 107 points shy of Jackie Stiles for No. 2. Mavunga scored 21 points and had 14 rebounds and four blocks and Harper added 17 points and 10 rebounds and five assists.
During Ohio State’s January struggles, McGuff often noted his team’s tendency to allow poor defense and rebounding to go hand-in-hand. Against Penn State they were once again related, but in a way that troubled Penn State. The Nittany Lions (15-14, 6-10) shot just 37.9 percent and were outrebounded 48-29.
"It’s been really intense in practice, coach has really upped the intensity," Mavunga said. "We’ve been really keying in on defense as well as rebounding. We get in trouble when we do it wrong and that’s really helped."
Strong in February after a rocky January, Ohio State is optimistic entering college basketball’s most important month.
"It’s a real credit to our kids, their character, their commitment to wanting to make this a special season," McGuff said.
Andrew Erickson is a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch.