INDIANAPOLIS — Exactly one week after their thrilling triple overtime victory against Ohio State, the Spartans are gearing up to rematch the Buckeyes, this time with a Big Ten Tournament trophy on the line. Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten semifinal matchup marks the third time this year that the two teams are facing each other.
The meeting between No. 2 OSU and No. 3 MSU on February 27 at the Breslin was a back and forth grudge match that resulted in a 107-105 victory in the Spartan’s favor. The season series is currently tied 1-1, with the Buckeyes taking an 85-80 win over MSU in the first meeting of the regular season.
Both teams struggled at times in their respective quarterfinals games. OSU was trailing Rutgers into halftime 31-26. The Buckeyes went 10-for-33 from the field in the first half on Friday night, one of their worst shooting performances of the season. MSU got off to a sluggish start as well, riddled with mental mistakes which would help Purdue stay in Friday night’s game until the final buzzer.
The matchup between the Spartans and Buckeyes on Saturday evening is going to be a fight to the death; each team will be tuned in for all 40 minutes and the result could end up as one of the most intense games in the tournament.
Ohio State vs. Rutgers quarterfinal takeaways
Luckily for the Buckeyes, its star shooter, sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, single-handedly dominated the Scarlet Knights by scoring 43 of OSU’s 73 points, setting a new record for single-game scoring in the Big Ten Tournament . Mitchell made 15-of-24 from the floor Friday evening including eight shots from behind the arc.
The victory on Friday night for the Buckeyes meant that they live to fight another day, but they might have to do so without their second leading scorer, senior guard Ameryst Alston. Alston left Friday’s contest after diving for a loose ball and sustaining an injury to her wrist. She would not return. Her status for Saturday’s game is still uncertain.
“Yeah, she came down,” Buckeye head coach Kevin McGuff said. “I think she sprained maybe her wrist. But I don’t have much more than that. I just had a quick update, that was it.”
Alston has been a huge presence for OSU this season, playing in every game thus far and averaging 36.7 minutes a game the regular season. The 5-foot-9 senior is shooting 45.6 percent from the field and averaging 19.5 points a game. The Buckeyes are 11-2 this season when Alston scores 20 or more.
MSU vs. Purdue quarterfinal takeaways
The Spartans can counter Mitchell with their own offensive superpower, junior guard Aerial Powers. Powers carried the Spartans past Purdue on Friday night with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Last week against the Buckeyes she was limited to only five points in the first half, going 1-for-11 shooting.
The Buckeye defense also did a great job at keeping guards Tori Jankoska and Branndais Agee in check, and the Spartans would rely on the heroics of senior center Jasmine Hines. Hines scored 36 coupled with 11 boards and was undoubtedly the MVP of last week’s matchup.
If MSU wants to advance, they’re going to need Agee and Jankoska to step up. The duo was held to 20 points on Friday night, when their combined season averages add up to 27.7 points per game. The clutch performance from Hines was much appreciated but the Buckeyes will be much more likely to keep her in check come tip off.
“She’s (Jankoska) better than what she’s playing,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “She’s too focused on it and it seems to define her. And it’s frustrating, you know, because we need her to continue to move forward.”
Tip off for the game will be approximately 25 minutes after the conclusion of the semifinal matchup against No. 12 Northwestern and No. 1 Maryland.
“This time of year it’s not not necessarily who’s better,” Hines said. “It’s about who wants it more and who’s willing to get it.”
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