An empty opening two minutes doomed Ohio State to an exit from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Sunday afternoon. The eighth-seeded Buckeyes fell 70-65 to No. 9 seed Florida.
Playing in front of a mostly friendly crowd at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio, the Buckeyes turned the ball over on their first three possessions and fell behind 9-0.
“We just had some very bad turnovers, unforced turnovers,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said. “A couple of passes thrown over a player’s head. When we moved the ball, we got quality shots.”
They finally got on the board with a foul line jumper by Kalpana Beach at the 17:48 mark but were forced to play from behind the rest of the way.
Ohio State (25-7) cut the deficit to three after point guard Samantha Prahalis stole a rebound and made a base-line jumper to make it 17-14, but Andrea Vilaro Aragones answered with a three-pointer for Florida. Ndidi Madu followed her with a layup to stretch the Gators advantage back to eight. It peaked at 13 when Jaterra Bonds hit a three-pointer with 7:21 to go, but the Buckeyes battled back to within eight by halftime.
They went to the locker room down 39-31 then cut the deficit to four on layups by Tayler Hill and Ashley Adams to start the scoring in the second half.
Florida answered with a layup by Jordan James and a three-pointer by Lanita Bartley to give the Gators a nine-point advantage again at 44-35 with 17:20. Shots such as Bartley’s became a common theme as the afternoon wore on. Every time the Buckeyes made a run, the Gators had an answer, and it often came from beyond the arc, where they were 9 for 21.
Ohio State cut the deficit to four points on five occasions in the second half, but they only got closer than that once. That was thanks to a Hill layup that made it 65-63 Florida and prompted Gator head coach Amanda Butler to call a timeout with 54 seconds left.
The crowd of 4,195, many of whom showed up to root for the Buckeyes, came to its feet at that point, but their excitement was dampened when George dribbled around Adams for a tough layup in the lane. That stretched the Florida lead back to four and marked a rare head-to-head victory for the Gators’ top post presence.
George entered the game leading Florida in scoring and was the top point-getter for the Gators against Ohio State, but she had to work hard for her 16 tallies. She missed 11 of 17 shots from the floor and had her shot blocked by Adams on several occasions.
George’s last basket stemmed the tide one last time for the victors. Reserve forward Emilee Harmon missed a shot from about 16 feet with the shot clock running down on the ensuing Ohio State possession, and Jones was fouled after coming up with the ball in a scrum.
Jones missed the front end of a one-and-one situation with 16 seconds left, but Lily Svete came up with the offensive rebound and passed to Bonds, who made two free throws and essentially sealed the game with 12 seconds to go.
Hill ended up Ohio State’s leading scorer with 23 points while Stokes added 12 and Adams notched 11.
Prahalis managed only nine points on 4-for-13 shooting, a bitter way for the Big Ten Player of the Year and Ohio State’s only senior to end her career.
“She’s the kind of player who needs a rhythm,” Foster said. “I don’t think she ever got comfortable with it today.”
Bartley and Bonds joined George in double figures with 15 and 11 points, respectively, for the Gators (20-12).