Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State’s five seniors exited the Value City Arena floor with 32 seconds remaining Sunday, their work complete.
They sat on the bench and watched as the clock ran out on a 73-60 win over Purdue. A sixth straight conference win was many things for Ohio State — a jump into a tie for first place with No. 10 Maryland, a jolt of confidence after a puzzling loss at South Florida seven days prior and a fitting conclusion to senior day festivities — but nothing Kelsey Mitchell could contextualize minutes after.
“I actually can’t put a finger on it right now, but it was a good win, and when you’ve got a good win on top of senior day, nothing tops it as far as emotions are concerned,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know if it’s going to truly hit me in regards to leaving and not being able to play here again, but it will, believe that.”
Coach Kevin McGuff paused for a moment Friday, asked how much of Mitchell’s legacy at Ohio State will be determined by how the Buckeyes fare in the NCAA Tournament this season.
The Buckeyes are attempting to accomplish something special in March, McGuff said, but win or lose, much of Mitchell’s work in bringing Ohio State women’s basketball back to relevance has already been done.
The program’s all-time leading scorer said “thank you” in front of 8,081 Sunday with a team-high 26 points and the five Ohio State (22-6, 11-3 Big Ten) seniors recognized — Mitchell, Stephanie Mavunga, Linnae Harper, Asia Doss and Alexa Hart — combined for 63 points while holding Purdue (17-11, 8-6) to 34.8 percent shooting.
It was a significant departure from No. 16 Ohio State’s last meeting with Purdue, a 71-60 loss in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament that likely cost the Buckeyes a top 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it was that it factor, just staying confident in the game through highs and lows,” Mitchell said. “Last year, I was still really, really immature in regards to when things got going rough, I kind of folded and I think with a little bit more film, a little bit more losses throughout the course of this year, that’s helped me battle when things are tough for the team and for myself.”
Purdue scored the first four points of the third quarter — an Ae’Rianna Harris jumper followed by two Andreona Keys free throws — to take a 34-33 lead, its first of the game, 70 second into the second half.
That lead held for 15 seconds. Ohio State stomped on the accelerator with a 10-0 run — six from Mavunga, who had 17 points — and limited the Boilermakers to 12 fourth-quarter points to hand Purdue its first double-digit loss since Jan. 24.
Ohio State’s intensity was evident from the opening tip. The Buckeyes cooled off in the second quarter but took a 10-0 lead with 6:21 remaining in the first.
“We had really good practices leading up to this game,” McGuff said. “We had a sense of urgency, we had great effort, great focus and so I just thought we played really hard today overall.”
Both Mavunga and Mitchell noted Ohio State’s practices leading up to Sunday involved a healthy amount of running, in part a punishment for a poor rebounding effort at Illinois.
On Sunday, it all came together — strong rebounding, defense late into the shot clock and well-timed spurts of fast transition offense. The elusive next step for Ohio State is putting it together consistently.
“If we can do it how you guys saw today, we might have something going,” Mitchell said.