With her team in the lead just six minutes into the game, Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell dribbled the ball calmly at the top of the key.
Junior guard Nicole Munger and junior center Hallie Thome closed in on her, catching her by surprise and forcing a loose ball. As the ball bounced past the half-court line, the three players chased it. Mitchell was the frontrunner of the pack, and it seemed as if she would regain possession.
But then, out of nowhere, Munger and Thome dove across the floor just as Mitchell reached down towards the ball. Thome grabbed the ball, and Munger instantly called a timeout — winning possession back for her team.
Some may have wondered why two starters would sacrifice themselves so early on.
But in Sunday afternoon’s overtime thriller, every possession mattered. The No. 22 Michigan women’s basketball team (2-2 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) fell to the tenth-ranked Buckeyes (4-0, 15-2), 78-71, at Crisler Center.
“Just an unbelievable game, I think, against two of the top teams in the country,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I’m really super bummed we came out on the short side of it. We had every opportunity down the stretch to win that game.”
The game started out intense, with both teams showing off their energy and physicality. Munger drained a corner 3, getting the Wolverines on the scoreboard early on. But Mitchell responded immediately for the Buckeyes, sinking a 3-pointer of her own.
The rest of the quarter — and game for that matter — would follow this back-and-forth trend.
Both teams created a considerable amount of scoring chances. Ohio State played very tight defense overall, especially on Katelynn Flaherty, but the senior guard still managed to find the rim from the get-go.
Thome was also a major contributor for Michigan. The Wolverines consistently fed her the ball down low, letting her spin around defenders to find the basket with ease. Michigan figured out how to capitalize on her height advantage from the beginning, and she put it in effect at the end of the first quarter.
Following a missed 3-pointer from Munger, a Buckeye defender waited under the rim for the rebound. But Thome suddenly reached over the opponent, grabbed the ball and scored.
Despite their offensive success, the Wolverines couldn’t limit Ohio State’s offense. They also had numerous traveling violations, and due to these mistakes Michigan trailed, 24-18, at the end of the opening stanza.
The second quarter was a defensive battle in which the Wolverines came out on top, limiting the Buckeyes to just six points. Senior forward Jillian Dunston set the tone for Michigan in this period, offering leadership through her confident style of play. The Wolverines followed suit and began cutting into Ohio State’s lead.
Having just hit a free throw to get her team within one, freshman guard Deja Church received the ball once more, following a missed jumper by Mitchell. Church’s floater — the last shot of the half — spun out of the hoop, though, and Michigan trailed, 30-29.
Flaherty made a jumper at the start of the second half, giving the Wolverines their first lead in a while. This lead flipped between the two sides seven more times in what was an even-sided third quarter.
With 19 seconds remaining in the quarter, Flaherty came up clutch for Michigan. She showed off her ball-handling skills, dribbling through the defense to convert a layup and tie the game at 47 at the end of the third frame.
Neither team pulled away in the fourth quarter. Thome found success in the low post, leading the Wolverines’ offense with a quarter-high nine points, while Mitchell continued to lead the Buckeyes.
With a little over a minute in regulation remaining, Michigan — trailing 62-61 — called a timeout. It proved helpful. Flaherty drained a 3-pointer shortly after to give the Wolverines a two-point lead.
After a missed jumper by Ohio State, Michigan regained possession and had a chance to make it a two-possession game. But Flaherty missed a 3-pointer and Mitchell capitalized, going coast-to-coast to tie the game at 64.
The Wolverines called a timeout with twelve seconds left, and had one final chance to put the game away. But Flaherty couldn’t convert, missing another 3-pointer, sending the game to overtime.
“I think it was a good look,” Flaherty said. “It just kinda sucks, because if we scored at that point it would have been over.”
With Thome and Flaherty well-guarded, Michigan’s offense struggled in overtime. Deadlier, however, was its defense’s continued inability to stop Mitchell, who scored nine of her game-high 37 points in the extra period.
Though the Wolverines had strong individual efforts — which included 27 and 22 points from Thome and Flaherty, respectively — they were not enough for a victory.
Michigan put together four strong quarters, but the end result left the fans feeling bitter once again. The Wolverines have yet to close out a game against a high-caliber team.
“In general, we just need to realize we are right there,” Thome said. “We all need to go back, watch the game, figure out what we need to improve upon and then we play them next week, so we are in a good condition right now. We just need to keep improving and take it day by day. It’s a loss, but a loss is time for learning.”
Added Barnes Arico: “We will get back at it and figure out what we can do better and try to put ourselves in a position to be successful moving forward.”