A new season has dawned but an old problem arose for the Ohio State women's basketball team on Sunday.
With an athletic four-guard lineup, Auburn jumped on the 15th-ranked Buckeyes in the first 15 minutes and the 24th-ranked Tigers built a 16-point lead they would ride to a 67-58 win in the final of the Buckeye Classic played in front of 2,891 fans at St. John Arena in Columbus.
The Buckeyes got as close as eight in the final four minutes but that was it.
They got a stop at the other end when Riley knocked the ball free from Auburn star DeWanna Bonner to start an OSU fast break, but the Buckeyes could not convert the opportunity into points.
Riley, a power forward, ended up the one running the break and lost the ball to Auburn's Trevesha Jackson near the OSU foul line. In the ensuing scrum for the ball Ohio State's Jantel Lavender crashed into Jackson and was called for a loose-ball foul.
Jackson missed the a pair of free throws but Tiger point guard Whitney Boddie knifed in for the rebound and put up a layup that put her team back ahead by 10.
After the teams traded empty possessions, Ohio State had another chance to get back into the game go unfulfilled as Riley rebounded an errant Marscilla Packer three-pointer and fed Lavender, who was fouled in the act of shooting but clanged a pair of free throws.
Yet despite those misses, thanks to three offensive rebounds the Buckeyes had two more shots at the bucket that went awry and a third that was also no good but came while Lavender was fouled.
Unfortunately for head coach Jim Foster's Buckeyes, Lavender missed two more free throws and Ohio State ended yet another empty trip still down by 10 with 2:00 left on the clock.
The fruitless two minutes were a microcosm of the game's final 25.
The Buckeyes had countless chances to make moves on their opponent but could not take advantage, either because of turnovers or off-the-mark jump shots. Ohio State also failed to help itself from the foul line as the Buckeyes made just 8 of 16 from there.
Auburn, which spent the last nine minutes of the contest in the bonus, was 13 of 21 from the charity stripe.
Despite her uncharacteristic struggles at the foul line, Lavender was the star of the game for the Buckeyes. The freshman center had game highs in points (22) and rebounds (17) and represented the bulk of the Buckeyes offense as its perimeter players struggled.
"She's a big body in there, very hard for us to guard," Auburn coach Nell Fortner said of Lavender. "I was really worried as the game was winding down that we weren't going to have an answer for her down the stretch, but I thought our ball pressure got better down the stretch so they couldn't look into her as easily."
Thanks mostly to the defensive efforts of Sherell Hobbs on Packer, Auburn got the better of the Buckeyes on the outside.
Packer suffered through a 3-for-15 shooting night that included 0 makes in 7 tries from beyond the three-point line. She scored seven points. Her fellow starters in the OSU backcourt, Ashlee Trebilcock and Shavelle Little, combined for 10 points on 5 of 12 shooting.
"We really feel like Marscilla is their catalyst – she's the one who makes that team go," Fortner said. "She's got great experience and is an excellent shooter. We were not going to let her have great looks at the basket today so Sherell was on her all day long, just trying to limit her touches, and if she did get the ball she didn't get a good look. We felt like we had to shut her down, affect her as much as we could, to be successful today."
Packer chose to look inward in explaining her struggles, saying she was rushing too many shots.
"That's when I just have to settle down and think about things I do in my game to counteract their defense," she said.
Indeed, Foster saw hurrying to be a problem for the 5-1 Buckeyes as a whole as they faced a significant talent upgrade from their first five opponents of the season.
Auburn's quickness turned out to be doubly tough on Ohio State. It made the Buckeyes work harder to stay in front of Tiger guards at one end, it made for a difficult transition to staying calm on the offensive end.
Auburn (6-0) shot 56.3 percent in the first half (18 of 32) but dipped below 30 percent in the second half (8 of 28).
Meanwhile, Ohio State never quite found the range. The Buckeyes went into the locker room shooting 50 percent (14 of 28) but made only 11 of 30 shots (36.7 percent) after the intermission.
Beyond that, Foster was disappointed in the rebounding efforts from his guards.
Little, Packer and Trebilcock finished with four boards total while Boddie had 10 herself. Hobbs led the Tigers with 21 points while Boddie added 20 and Bonner had 16.
"Our guards were out-quicked early on," Foster said. "In the second half I thought we made some adjustments and did a pretty good job."