MINNEAPOLIS — After taking a 24-point lead in the first half, Indiana women’s basketball collapsed in the second half and lost 79-75 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday in Minneapolis.
Through the first few minutes, it was all Grace Berger for 1-seed Indiana as the graduate guard made sure there would be no repeat of Friday's win over 9-seed Michigan State, when she started 0-6, didn’t record her first points until the third quarter and finished with 8 total points. Just 2:10 into Saturday’s game, Berger had already scored 7 of the Hoosiers’ 8 points.
It wasn’t just Berger’s offense leading the Hoosiers, though. After the Buckeyes tied it up midway through the first quarter, the Hoosiers exploded on a 16-0 run and didn’t allow a single point for seven minutes and 40 seconds across the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter.
Thanks to strong shooting and lockdown defense, the Hoosiers entered halftime leading 46-26 and looked like they would dominate the full 40 minutes.
Throughout the season, Indiana’s ability to make halftime adjustments has allowed it to consistently win the third quarter by a healthy margin. However, on Saturday, it was Indiana’s opponent who made the necessary halftime adjustments to come back and turn the blowout into a closely contested game.
Coming out of the break, the Buckeyes began knocking down shots on offense and aggressively full-court pressing the Hoosiers on defense. The Hoosiers, who have usually excelled against the press this season — including in two earlier matchups against the Buckeyes — looked overwhelmed by the swarming defense and threw multiple passes right to defenders while trying to advance the ball.
After the game, Indiana head coach Teri Moren said Ohio State played a different and more aggressive press Saturday than the first two games. The Buckeyes also benefitted from having senior guard Jacy Sheldon healthy, which allowed the team to play Indiana differently in both press and halfcourt defense.
“They denied the ball inbounds; that was different. They were denying the reversal pass; that was different,” Moren said. “We got it down into the deep corners way too often. We struggled. Our inbounders, (junior guard Sydney Parrish) and (freshman guard) Yarden (Garzon) struggled with making the right decisions."
Ohio State capitalized on the mistakes too, turning five Indiana turnovers in the third quarter into easy baskets the other way. A layup by Thierry off a Berger turnover with 2:30 left in the third cut the lead to just 4 points — the closest the game had been since Indiana’s early run.
However, a Berger jumper put an end to the 25-6 Buckeyes run and some strong free throw shooting to close out the frame gave the Hoosiers a 10-point cushion entering the fourth quarter.
Despite the lead, Indiana continued to struggle against Ohio State’s aggressive defense in the fourth quarter.
“That's on us — that's on me and our staff not being able to help them with a better press attack and really just calm them down a little bit,” Moren said.
Whenever the Hoosiers did manage to hit a big shot and begin swinging momentum back in their favor, the Buckeyes would respond with multiple big shots of their own to continue chipping away at the lead.
With 3:12 left in the game, Ohio State senior guard Taylor Mikesell drove to the basket, drew the foul and finished the layup. At the line, she converted the and-1 to give Ohio State its first lead since the score was 2-0 just 30 seconds into the game.
The teams traded the lead back-and-forth over the final minutes, with a post move by senior forward Mackenzie Holmes — who Moren said wasn’t playing at 100% — putting the Hoosiers ahead by a point with 45 seconds left.
Indiana again couldn’t keep the advantage, though, allowing Ohio State to drive the lane and regain the lead. Across its final possessions, Indiana tried working the ball to its star players in Holmes and Berger, but they both found themselves stifled in their attempts to retake the lead.
With a pair of Buckeye free throws to increase the margin to 4 points with just four seconds remaining, any hopes the Hoosiers had of winning their first conference championship since 2002 were extinguished.
The 24-point comeback marked the largest between two Big Ten teams in conference history, including both regular season and tournament play.
“It's going to sting for a couple days,” Berger said. “But once we get practicing back this week, I think we'll use it as motivation for sure and figure out how to get better from it.”
Now eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana will await Selection Sunday at 8 p.m. on March 12 to find out what seed it will receive and who it will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.