One of the things that is often said following a game like Sunday’s match-up between the #7 Ohio State Buckeyes and the #18 Purdue Boilermakers is that “both teams gave so much effort and left so much on the court that it’s a shame that either team has to lose.” While saying this might help the Rebounders Club members who made the trip from Columbus feel a little better, at best it’s a white lie. Not only is it a great thing that Purdue won, but, in the context of the Big 10 conference race, the victory is doubly sweet because Ohio State lost. No doubt folks in East Lansing and Minneapolis were ecstatic when they saw the final score as well.
A second often-used sentiment that is often voiced after games like this is that the outcome doesn’t mean all that much because there are still 14 tough Big 10 games to go. Like the first statement, however, all the “long way to go” talk just ain’t so. Purdue is only going to play the odds-on favorite to win the Big 10 in Mackey one time this year. If they want to compete for the regular season conference crown, the home Ohio State game was a must win no matter when it fell on the schedule.
The Boilers knew exactly how much this game mattered, and they played with post-season intensity from the opening tip. Aya Traore set the tone for the afternoon as she scored the first points of the afternoon by attacking Ohio State’s defenders and hitting a short jumper. The reigning Big 10 player-of-the-year, Jessica Davenport, answered a minute later, tying the game at 2 all. Then the Purdue defense tightened up and the Boilers were able to generate some turnovers that they were able to convert into transition buckets. In addition, the Old Gold and Black hit a fair number of their attempts from the floor. Purdue went out to an 11-4 lead with 13 minutes left in the half. Jessica Davenport was the primary focus of the Boiler’s defensive efforts, and this left the Buckeye’s perimeter shooters relatively open. The player who took primary advantage was shooting ace Marscilla Packer. The Bucks made up the deficit behind Packer’s hot hand, and took their first lead at 14-15 with 8:30 left in the first stanza. The Boilers maintained their defensive intensity, but missed 8 shots in succession-allowing the visitors to slowly pull ahead. Late in the half the Boilers regained their shooting touch and made up a part of the deficit. They were only behind by 4 points, 24-28, with 23 seconds left in the half. Then the Boilers lost their focus and two Buckeye steals were turned into a break away lay-up and a buzzer-beating three pointer in transition. Just like that the Buckeyes had jumped out to a 9 point lead, and the score going into the locker room was 24-33.
The Boilers began the second half in a full court press, and the Buckeyes appeared poorly prepared for the increased pressure. Aya turned into a one-woman wrecking crew as she went aggressively to the hole on each offensive possession. The fifth-year senior scored 6 straight points to open the half. Then Wisdom-Hylton stepped in front of a lazy perimeter pass for a break-away lay-up of her own. In 2 minutes the Boilers were right back in the game, 32-33. What was more, the crowd woke up, and Mackey was rocking for the remained of the afternoon. Ohio State regained some composure and another Packer three pointer and two shots by Davenport (one resulting in a basket and one a foul shot) allowed the visitors to stretch out the lead once again. It should be noted that Davenport’s lay-up with 15:40 remaining would be the final points that she would score. Erin Lawless was the next Boiler to “step up” as she hit some key shots down the stretch. The Boilers tied the game three times over the following 3 minutes only to see the Buckeyes make a shot to regain the lead. Finally, at the 13:16 mark, a Traore jumper gave Curry’s charges the lead. The huge amount of crowd noise seemed to fluster the visitors while it energized the home team, and the Boilers were able to stretch their advantage to 8 points, 54-46, with a bit less than 8 minutes to go. Ohio State is a top 10 team for a reason, however, and they regained their composure and went back to Packer behind the arc. She connected on her attempts as the Buckeyes reeled in the Boilers.
The score was 59-57 when a foul of Sharika Webb at the 2:08 mark gave the Boilers a one and one opportunity. Webby sank both and the Boilers stretched the lead out to 4 at 61-57. A minute later Kim Wilburn found Debbie Merrill in the paint, and she made a jumper to bring the Buckeyes back to within 2. The Boilers then milked as much of the shot clock as they could before Sharika Webb threw up a prayer in the final second. It bounced off long and Webb pulled down the most important rebound of the day to retain Purdue possession. Curry then called a time out with 16 seconds remaining. The ball went into Katie Gearlds’ hands out of the time out, and she was fouled with 11 seconds on the clock. The Big 10’s leading free throw shooter missed on the front end of the one and one, however, and the Buckeyes brought the ball over half court before calling a time out with 8 seconds left. Head coach Jim Foster later said that the play drawn up in the time out was designed to get a three point look for Packer, and that she had, in fact, been free. It was a tightly guarded Ashley Allen who hoisted up the final shot attempt from well behind the arc, however. Everyone in Mackey held their breath as the rainbow shot when up and then clanged off the side of the rim. By the time it had bounced out of bounds the clock had counted to down to double zeros and the Boilers had escaped with a 2 point win, 61-59.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game.
While it would be easy to say that the Buckeyes had no answer for Aya Traore, it might be more accurate to note that they did not even know that she was a question. Ohio State’s primary focus was on stopping Katie Gearlds. They did little to slow down Aya’s penetration moves, and made no attempts to get out on her when she spotted up behind the arc. The end result was a banner day for the JUCO transfer and a total of 61 points scored against the team with the Big 10 and nation’s best scoring defense. Prior to Sunday’s match-up, the Buckeyes had only allowed an average of 47 points per game. Overall the Boilers shot 39% from the field, 37% from behind the arc.
Coming into Sunday’s game, Ohio State led the league in field goal percentage with 47% (they made 49% Sunday), assists with 18 per game (they made 21 Sunday), turnover margin at +10.5 (-4 on Sunday), assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.44 to 1 (1.3 to 1 here), and rebounding margin of +7.4 per game (but -7 vs. Purdue). All this points to the fact that Pat Summitt is correct when she asserts that rebounding and turnovers win games. Both have a direct bearing on number of shots attempted; 49 for Ohio State vs. 59 for Purdue. All of this added up to a team that scored much, much less than their league-leading 76 point per game average. Much of Purdue’s defensive success was keyed on their ability to shut down Jessica Davenport. This was done by keeping Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton on her for most of the game. Lindsay was able to use her quick hands and jumping ability to prevent most of the entry passes into the low block. Davenport immediately drew a double team when she did catch the ball. Purdue’s gamble that either she would not find the open man or that the person would miss her shot paid off.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic of the entire game was the Boiler’s 35-27 rebounding edge. When Davenport was not in the game the Old Gold and Black were completely dominant, and would rebound two or three misses before either connecting or going to the free throw line. Many of the Buckeye and Boilers’ missed triples rebounded long, so it wasn’t too terribly surprising that a large number were corralled by guards. Webb led the way for the Boilers and pulled down 10 boards.
The Boilers only attempted 11 free throws. They hit 9 of them for 82%. Erin Lawless, Danielle Campbell, and Sharika Webb were perfect from the stripe.
The Boiler’s low turnover number – 12, including merely 4 in the second half- is all the more remarkable when you consider that Ohio State came into the game having forced at least 15 turnovers in every game they had played and held a 262-99 advantage in points off turnovers. The Boilers played an extremely intelligent game (something which had not been the mark of the team earlier in the year). They did a very good job of taking what Ohio State was giving them without forcing or telegraphing passes.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton finished the game with a decent line (6 points (3-6), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 steals to 4 turnovers), but her major contribution isn’t reflected in the box score. Lindsay played in back of Jessica Davenport, and used her jumping ability and quick hands to prevent entry passes. Lindsay did this without committing fouls, thus keeping Ohio State out of the bonus, and generally by herself, thus allowing the other Buckeyes to be played honestly as well. The Boiler’s entire defensive strategy was predicated on Lindsay’s ability to keep the 6’5” junior in check, and she rose to the task admirably.
Erin Lawless has the heart of a warrior. She was cracked in the mouth early in the first half, but didn’t let the blow slow her down. Erin did more than her share when it came to tough interior defense and fighting for rebounds. The best part of her game on Sunday, however, was her willingness to step up and take the big shots Purdue needed down the stretch. In all she recorded 12 points (5-11, 1-1 3 pt.er, 1-1 FT), 3 rebounds, an assist and a steal to 1 turnover.
This is not a game which will be going down in Katie Gearld’s personal memory book. Katie had a difficult time finding the basket, attempted to post up the much shorter OSU guards with a notable lack of success, and missed the front half of an extremely crucial one and one. Katie used her long frame to great advantage defensively, however, and her on ball pressure was extremely effective at frustrating to the Buckeye perimeter players. Brandie Hoskins, in particular, had a difficult time getting her looks, and the Ohio junior was held to 7 points below her average. Katie finished with a total of 3 points (1-6, 1-4 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists to 1 turnover.
Aya Traore was named Big 10 player-of-the-week for her games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, and deservedly so. After 2 years Aya has finally gained the ability to harness her abundant athleticism and remain in control. Her abilities can now be compared to All-American candidates Sophia Young and Simone Augustus, although her lack of hype will probably keep her off most people’s lists. Aya was extremely active on both ends of the court, creating points off turnovers by stealing the ball defensively, while attacking the basket and finishing on the offensive end. Up to this point (but no longer) she has come “out of nowhere” and taken other teams completely by surprise. As Aya can create her own shot, it’s not clear what opponents will be able to do to stop her even when they know she’s coming. In a line which is All-American even if her reputation is not, Aya recorded a game-high 23 points (9-16, 1-3 3 pt.er, 4-5 FT), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 steals to 1 turnover.
Sharika Webb had a good game against Wisconsin, but she positively outdid herself on Sunday. She took care of the ball, keeping Big 10 steals leader Kim Wilburn at bay while running the offense and finding the open player. Webby shot without hesitation when she was open, kept tabs on the shot clock, and used her relative size and absolute strength to pull down rebounds. In an exceptional outing Webb recorded her second career double double with 10 points (3-7, 2-3 3 pter, 2-2 FT), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova is “this close” to breaking out and becoming unstoppable. During her time on the court she received the ball on the low block and was able to use her foot work and speed to get off open lay-ups every time. Her shooting form has totally deserted her, however, and none of her 4 attempts found their mark. When Bogs settles down enough to connect on her attempts, she will be powerful force for the Boilers.
Carol Duncan came in for 5 minutes and stuck to Davenport like glue for the entire time. Carol provided her trademark physical presence. She also pulled down a rebound but failed to score in her lone attempt.
Kim Wilburn attempted to give Cherelle George a “welcome to the Big 10” pocket picking, but George was quick enough to recover and tie up the ball. Cherelle had a hard time finding the basket, but otherwise provided valuable minutes. She pulled down a rebound and prevented a sure 2 points by fouling a Buckeye player. One suspects that George’s largest contribution to the team comes during the practices. Sharika Webb’s ball handling under pressure has taken a notable jump up this year, and Cherelle’s presence in practice goes a long way towards explaining that improvement.
Jodi Howell was sent in when Ohio State went into a zone defense. Although the Buckeyes are very fast at getting out on shooters, Jodi’s shot release is even quicker. Jodi also provided strong defense during her time on the court. In 9 minutes of action she scored 3 points (1-4, 1-3 3 pt.er) 1 rebound and 1 assist to 1 turnover.
Danielle Campbell appeared to have the biggest mismatch as the green freshman went toe to toe with Davenport when she was in the game. She proved up to the task as the frosh managed to use her speed to draw a foul on the OSU center, and then nailed her free throws. Campbell scored a total of 4 points (1-2, 2-2 FT), pulled down a rebound and committed a turnover.
The coaching staff did a tremendous job – both with preparation for the game and with in-game adjustments. Starting the second half with full court pressure was the decision that turned the tide. Any scheme which holds players of Davenport’s and Hoskin’s caliber to 8 and 7 points below their averages is exceptional. The staff deserves full marks for finding that scheme and then believing in it when OSU took the lead. Katie Gearlds was the “one” that OSU’s box and one was keyed on, and her presence on the court took pressure off everyone else. Another coach might have sat KG down because of her lack of point production, but doing that would have allowed the Buckeyes to wake up and focus on Traore. Curry did a good job keeping substitutes in long enough to buoy their confidence without hurting the overall intensity on the court.
One assistant coach couldn’t wait till March to get her ring. Jannon Lampley (nee Roland) was married on New Year’s Day. Congratulations Jannon!
The officials “let ‘em play” most of the afternoon, and, despite the physical nature of the contest, whistled few fouls. This helped with the overall flow of the game and was a welcome change from past games.
Early in the second half the announced crowd of 7749 realized that their loud cheering was disturbing Ohio State. Crowds are extremely sensitive to this type of positive reinforcement, and from then on the arena was incredibly loud. A true home court advantage was achieved, and the audience was very much the sixth man.
A large contingent of past and future Boilers were behind the bench- WNBA players Shereka Wright and Katie Douglas sat beside recruits Maggie Boyer, Brittany Rayburn, Ta’Shia Phillips, and signees Amber Harris and Dee Dee Jernigan.
We’re back, baby!
Game Ball: Sharika Webb and Aya Traore