Ohio State turned in the performance of the season at just the right time, earning a trip to the Big Ten tournament semifinals with a shocking 99-82 upset of 11th-ranked Penn State on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis.
The eighth-seeded Buckeyes not only knocked the top seed out of the tournament, they dominated nearly all of the contest at Banker's Life Fieldhouse.
Ohio State rained in eight threes in the first nine minutes, prompting Penn State head coach Coquese Washington to call off her zone defense that was intended to make the Buckeyes beat her much taller squad from the outside.
The Buckeyes kept scoring, though, going on the attack against the Lady Lions' man-to-man with drive after drive by Ameryst Alston, Cait Craft and Raven Ferguson.
"They're a tough matchup for us man-to-man," Washington said. "You know, as you could see, we gave up 99 points. They're a tough matchup for us man-to-man, and when they're making the outside shots like they did at the start of the game, it makes it tough for us.
"We didn't want to go man-to-man early because of their dribble penetration."
The game was tied at 16 at the 14-minute mark when the Buckeyes went on a 14-2 run that started and ended with threes by Alston.
Later in the half they used a 10-0 run to stretch a 13-point advantage to 53-30 with 1:34 left in the half, and they enjoyed a 58-34 advantage after 20 minutes had been played.
Ohio State broke the tournament record for points in a half in the first half while shooting 71.9 percent (23 for 32) from the floor and 71.4 percent (10 for 14) from three-point range.
In the second half, the Lady Lions (22-7) remained in their man-to-man, and the Buckeyes (17-17) continued to shred it.
Ohio State extended its lead to 27 early in the second half and was still up by 20 with 4:30 to go, but Penn State had one final push.
The Lions pulled to within nine on a Peyton Witted three-pointer with 2:56 left and seemed to have momentum on their side, but the Buckeyes didn't buckle. They made 11 of 12 free throws in the final three minutes, including a 4-for-4 showing by Alston.
Alston, a sophomore point guard, was 12 for 15 from the floor, including 5 of 6 from three-point range. She also had nine assists while logging 40 minutes.
"I'm a driver, and they know that," said Alston, who scored a career-high 33 points. "And a lot of people know that and so they try to play off of me. I really brought it today. My teammates really brought it today. We always go back to our bread and butter, just driving."
Craft added 24 points and was 4-for-7 from long range. She admitted the early barrage of three-pointers was a surprise even to her.
"You know, that was honestly ridiculous I think, because it seemed at the beginning like nobody could miss and I don't think that's ever happened in a stretch of practice or a game obviously this year," Craft said.
Lucas was visibly frustrated throughout the contest and connected on only 5 of 16 shots from the field as Craft hounded her for much of the afternoon.
"I think it worked well," Craft said of the defensive plan for stopping Lucas. "Part of the reason it did work well, I knew if I got beat I had Ameryst, Raven, Martina, (and Darryce Moore) behind me. Lisa (Blair) came in and did what she needed to do as well as Ashley (Adams). They were behind me, so my only (focus) was to guard her because I had trust in them that they were going to stop the other four, which I think that they did."
Ohio State avenged a pair of double-digit losses to the Lady Lions during the regular season, games from which head coach Kevin McGuff said he took some positives.
"I wanted them to come out and really enjoy the moment and seize the day, rather than be caught up in, 'Hey, we played Penn State twice and we lost.'
"One of the things I really talked about is we had some really good stretches versus Penn State when we played them earlier, but to their credit, they played closer to 40 minutes than we did this those games. So our goal today was to get closer to 40 minutes than they did, and I think we certainly did that."
In addition to records for points in a Big Ten tournament half and game, Buckeyes' final field goal percentage of 62.1 was the highest in the history of the event
Ohio State split the season series with the Boilermakers while losing both games they played against Iowa.
"I've said it a lot of times -- if we can get everybody kind of playing at their best at the same time, I think we can have something special," McGuff said. "I think that's basically what you saw. It doesn't happen all of the time, but it wasn't like there was anybody out there doing something they can't do. We just had everybody kind of doing what they're capable of at the same time.
"You know, sometimes Am's on and Cait's off and so forth. But everybody was kind of in a great rhythm and we were in a really good rhythm offensively as a team."
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