For 20 minutes, the Rutgers women’s basketball team had complete command at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
But then Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell staged a record-setting shooting exhibition, turning the Scarlet Knights (18-14, 9-11) Cinderella storyline to a pumpkin. She was assisted by the Knights' turning the ball over a season-high 24 times.
Mitchell poured in 43 points to lift the Buckeyes (24-6, 15-5) over Rutgers, 73-58, in the Big Ten Tournament’s quarterfinal round Friday night after the Knights held the lead from the tip to nearly midway through the third quarter.
Rutgers jumped out to a 10-2 run and staved off a Buckeyes charge to close the first quarter with a 14-10 lead.
And then the duel began.
Sophomore guard Tyler Scaife and senior wing Kahleah Copper staged a shootout for the duration of the first half and when the dust settled at the break, Mitchell had 18 points, while Scaife and Copper countered with 16 and 13 points respectively.
The Knights’ tandem accounted for 85 percent of their team’s total in the first two frames, propelling Rutgers to a 31-25 lead at the half.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer was asked about the disparity in distribution of offensive production on her way to the locker room.
“The bigs are doing what they need to do,” Stringer told BTN’s Shelley Till at the half. “They’re rebounding, they’re intimidating on the defensive side, we’ll get em’ involved. It’s nothing that they’re doing wrong, it’s just that Tyler’s feeling it, she’s got the shots. …(senior center) Rachel (Hollivay) picked up the second foul, but it’s nothing. We will get them involved.”
As it turned out, the Knights front court never got involved after all.
Although Copper and Scaife continued their searing-hot shooting streaks, Hollivay was unable to establish a rhythm offensively.
Despite a solid overall performance, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing two assists, the senior attempted only three field goals, missing the mark all three times to finish the game without registering a point.
After Copper and Scaife, the next highest scorer on Rutgers roster through the game’s conclusion was senior forward Vikki Harris, who played six minutes, finishing with 3 points.
But the points weren’t spread around on the Buckeyes sideline either.
Mitchell and Alston were the only two Ohio State players to score in the first half.
BTN’s Vera Jones suggested on the broadcast’s halftime show that Mitchell wouldn’t be able to carry her team to victory alone.
As it turned out Mitchell didn’t need very much help.
The sophomore capped an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game with 7:15 to play in the third quarter and they never gave it up.
Mitchell scored 25 points in the second half en route to a record point total for a Big Ten Tournament game and the Knights were outscored 25-11 in the third quarter and 25-13 in the fourth, allowing OSU to ultimately cruise to a 15-point win.
“I’m a driver (or) attacker,” Mitchell said postgame. “I like to attack, draw and get it to my teammates for the pitch. There’s anything possible going downhill.”
All though it came in a losing effort, both Copper and Scaife proved they could perform on an elite level.
Copper coupled 12 boards with her 25 points, sprinkling in 2 assists for her 11th double of the season. The Philadelphia native delivered on a promise she made at the conclusion of Thursday’s 66-63 victory over Nebraska, where the senior fell one short of 10 rebounds.
From here, the road gets a little bumpy for Rutgers.
The Knights entered the matchup with Ohio State standing at No. 50 in RPI. Two wins shy of the benchmark for NCAA Tournament selection.
Rutgers can only hope its performance in the season finale against Michigan, along with the win over the Cornhuskers and a first round win in last season’s version of March Madness, is enough to impress the selection committee.
In the meantime, Mitchell and the Buckeyes march on.
“I’m just trying to win. I know how important it is to our team and me and the Ohio State family to try to make things happened for the program,” Mitchell said. “There’s no doubt about our team working hard. We just gotta focus and do what we need to do as far as ‘in-detail’ things.”