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Mitchell on demand: No. 8 Ohio State survives behind star’s heroics

Ohio State is one of the top 10 teams in the country and tonight they showed they know how to make tough plays down the stretch — especially Kelsey Mitchell.

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Estero, FL — The Ohio State Buckeyes will advance to the Gulf Coast Showcase championship game with a 77-72 win over the Syracuse Orange. The entire game was pretty closely contested, but two words can sum up the fourth quarter ...

Nail. Biter. Or ... Kelsey. Mitchell. Whichever you prefer.

“That fourth quarter was one to remember,” Ohio State junior guard Mitchell said. “Being able to buckle down against a team like that says a lot about our team, a lot about our growth. We’ve got a lot more to work on, but that’s a start.”

But before we get into the good stuff, let me set you up to the final quarter. Neither team wanted to let a chance at the championship game slip by them … (despite during the second quarter where Syracuse finished with a 10-point lead.)

Q1:

· Syracuse wasn’t shy about firing from beyond the arc, hitting 5-of-11 (45 percent), and the Buckeyes connected 7-of-15 field goals (47 percent).

· Ohio State took an early 7-3 advantage, but Syracuse answered with 8-straight to take an 11-7 lead with 5:30 to play in the first. The Buckeyes went on an 8-0 run of their own, and held the Orange to a three-minute scoring drought.

· The game was tied 18-18 after the first quarter. Buckeyes junior guard Kelsey Mitchell led all scorers with 10 points and two rebounds.

Q2:

· Ohio State went on a 7-0 run to take a 34-27 lead with three minutes to play before senior guard Brittney Sykes ended the Orange’s scoring drought by creating an old-fashioned three-point play.

· Sophomore guard Sierra Calhoun added nine points for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes ended on a 17-7 run as they took a 10-point lead into the locker room.

· Behind 12 points and two rebounds from Mitchell, and a buzzer-beating layup from junior forward Stephanie Mavunga (9 points, 5 rebounds), the Buckeyes led 44-34 at the half.

Q3:

· Calhoun continued her hot hand and opened the third quarter with a three-pointer to extend the Buckeyes lead.

· However, Syracuse also came back from the break ready to cut the lead and get back in the game. The Orange hit three straight three-pointers to cut the lead to 53-42 with seven minutes remaining.

· After a long replay break, Buckeyes senior guard Alexis Peterson hit two free throws, grabbing her 17 points of the night, and passing Erin Kenneally (1,326 points, 1989-93) for ninth place on the Syracuse all-time scoring list with 1,328 career points thus far.

· Syracuse cut their deficit to two points as Ohio State took a 60-58 lead into the final quarter. Calhoun had 19 points and 7 rebounds for the Buckeyes.

“We played really well at the end of the second quarter, and started the third quarter well, but we started to lose defensively,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “When you do that they’re going to make shots. They really made us pay during that stretch.”

AND NOW THE FINAL, AND BEST QUARTER OF THE GAME…

Q4:

To begin, Mitchell put up 10 points for her team (just like she did in the first quarter) to carry the Buckeyes to the championship. Oh, and nine of those points came from drained three-pointers.

“She really kind of took over and made a lot of great plays for us down the stretch,” McGuff said on Mitchell’s performance.

I thought an enjoyable way to take you through the action of the game would be by following the team’s tweets throughout the nail-biting final minutes of regulation. It’s also fun to see how different teams portray different plays (or at least I think it is.) Okay, here goes!

“I thought the last couple of minutes our defense was really good and we got some tough rebounds and tough shots that ultimately gave us the chance to win,” McGuff said.

Mitchell was pretty humble about her stellar performance.

“I always feel like I can do better,” Mitchell said. “I think my team did a good job of staying poised. My evaluation of myself is that I think mentally I can be a lot better.”

Ohio State will advance to the Gulf Coast Showcase championship game tomorrow to face the No. 5 Baylor Lady Bears. Tipoff is at 7:30 pm ET at the Germain Arena.

“That was a great basketball game, against a really good team in Syracuse,” McGuff said. “I was super impressed by them. But it was a really good win for our team, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to play Baylor tomorrow.”