Estero, FL — The Germain Arena filled with fans for Game 3 of the Gulf Coast Showcase, as local Florida favorite, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles took on the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes. Unfortunately for the home team, the Buckeyes would be the team to advance with a 79-66 win over the Eagles, behind junior guard Kelsey Mitchell’s 25 points, four rebounds, and six assists.
“They’re (Florida Gulf Coast) gonna make you play,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “They’re gonna make you play together and communicate. I thought it was a great challenge for our team.”
Ohio State got on the board early with a jumper from junior forward Stephanie Mavunga. The Buckeyes continued on a 4-0 run and held the Eagles scoreless for four and a half minutes, before Erica Nelson and Jordin Alexander finally got a couple of layups in for Florida Gulf Coast.
The remainder of the quarter remained a tightly contested battle, reminding us of the last matchup between the two teams -- a double-overtime thriller played in the Virgin Islands two years ago.
The Buckeyes shot 39 percent from the field compared to the Eagles 28 percent. Six points and five rebounds from senior forward Shayla Cooper led Ohio State to an 18-16 lead at the end of the quarter.
“In general in the first half we took really quick shots, we took contested shots,” McGuff said. “If you do that against Florida Gulf Coast, they’re gonna make you miss.”
The Eagles came out of the gates ready to take the lead, with a quick three-pointer from junior forward Rose Julien to put FGCU up by one. The Buckeyes responded with a 7-0 run over a quick minute, before the Eagles went on a 7-0 run of their own to keep the contest close. Mitchell drained a three-pointer in the first two minutes, marking her 270 career triple, and tying Caity Matter for the program record.
Neither team shot particularly well from beyond the arc, with Ohio State hitting just 2-of-11 (18 percent) and the Eagles going 4-for-18 (26 percent). Cooper neared a double-double and continued to lead all scorers with nine points and eight rebounds as the Buckeyes took a 36-35 lead into the locker room.
“Shayla (Cooper) is always aggressive, always one of those rowdy ones,” Mitchell said. “She makes our team go as far as the energy level.”
Coming out of the halftime intermission, Ohio State jumped to get the first points of the period as Cooper knocked down a quick jumper. Cooper continued her offensive dominance, and created a three-point play that gave the Buckeyes a 47-37 lead halfway through.
After cooling down late in the second period, Mitchell started to heat up just in time to keep the Eagles from taking the lead. She drained another three to solely became Ohio State’s all-time three-point leader.
“Kelsey (Mitchell) leading the way at the point guard spot, that’s what should happen,” McGuff said. “She had a couple of turnovers early, but she kind of played her way out of it and was fantastic in the second half.”
Ohio State held FGCU to a three-minute scoring drought that was ended with a three-pointer from freshman forward Nasrin Ulel, marking the first points of her collegiate career. Taking advantage of her time on the court, Ulel would hit two more triples, one being a shot clock buzzer-beater, to help keep the Eagles within striking distance of Ohio State.
Even though the Buckeyes were held scoreless in the final two minutes of the quarter, Ohio State still controlled the game. Cooper continued to lead all scorers with 14 points and 10 rebounds as her team took a 54-48 lead into the final 10 minutes of play.
Once again, the Buckeyes took command in the first few seconds of the quarter, as Mavunga layed the ball in to extend the lead to eight. After two minutes, Florida Gulf Coast got on the board with a three-pointer from Mikala McGhee.
With just under six minutes to play, Mitchell hit another deep three, giving the Buckeyes their largest lead of the night at 65-51. The Eagles’ wings weren’t long enough to come back within reach of Ohio State, and the Buckeyes advanced with a 79-66 victory.
“The first half I thought they had the game going [how] they wanted it,” McGuff said. “And the second half I thought we got the game going the way we wanted it and that ultimately was the difference.”
The Buckeyes will advance to play Game 8 of the Gulf Coast Showcase tomorrow at 7:30 pm against the winner of tonight’s 7:30 pm matchup between No. 12 Syracuse and George Washington.