Sierra Calhoun hovered near midcourt Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as the clock ran out on the Big Ten tournament championship game, her final dribble reverberating with finality — and not just because it closed what had been a brilliant showcase for the Ohio State women’s basketball team. It also marked the end of an era in the Big Ten.
Top-seeded Ohio State beat Maryland, 79-69, to hand the Terps their first loss ever in the Big Ten tournament. Second-seeded Maryland had won the previous three tournament finals and was looking to become the first Big Ten program to win four consecutive tournament crowns.
But there had been a sea change in the Big Ten this year. Before this season, Ohio State was the only program in three years to have beaten Maryland in league play.
This year, the Terps lost second-leading scorer Blair Watson to an ACL tear on Jan. 11 and the rest of the conference, which was stronger than it had been in years, took aim at an inexperienced roster with a seven-woman regular rotation.
Maryland lost four games after losing Watson, and though Ohio State wasn’t one of them — the Buckeyes lost, 99-69, in College Park in January — it seemed fitting that they were the ones to finally dethrone the Terps.
Kelsey Mitchell, the third-leading scorer in NCAA history, was phenomenal as usual for Ohio State. The senior led all players with 25 points, including five 3-pointers. Stephanie Mavunga added 15 points and led with 12 rebounds for the Buckeyes, who secured their sixth Big Ten tournament title in program history and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Kaila Charles led the Terps with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and senior Kristen Confroy added 17 points including five 3-pointers.
Fast starts had been key to Ohio State’s victories over Maryland in the past. This time, the first-half burst didn’t come until the second quarter, but it was no less effective in killing the Terps’ momentum. The Buckeyes took off on a 12-0 run with seven minutes left in the first half that started with a 3-pointer from Sierra Calhoun and included six points from Linnae Harper.
Maryland showed its inexperience during the streak, falling one step behind as the Buckeyes shifted into a higher gear. Ohio State starts four seniors and a junior, while the Terps have just one senior in the starting lineup, Kristen Confroy, and one who comes off the bench, Ieshia Small. Both starting point guard Channise Lewis and wing Eleanna Chrstinaki are playing their first Big Ten tournament this year. Maryland couldn’t match Ohio State’s frenetic pace and points for the Buckeyes came easy.
Ohio State ended the first half with three scorers in double figures and jogged into the locker room with a 44-31 lead; with the Buckeyes shooting confidently, the gap swelled to 18 points thanks to a layup from Stephanie Mavunga midway through the third quarter.
Confroy got hot after that and helped fuel a 12-2 run with eight consecutive points including two 3s to keep the Terps alive. The senior, who entered the tournament as the league’s most efficient 3-point shooter but had gone 0-for-5 from deep in Maryland’s first two games, found her shot Sunday and went 5-for-10 from deep.
She helped in other ways, too, flinging her body — with bruises from cupping therapy visible on her right shoulder from across the court — for a steal late in the fourth quarter that led to a layup by Small that put Maryland within five. She hit a corner 3 on the next offensive possession, Charles followed with a layup and the Terps trailed by just two points with 5:59 to play.
It was as close as they would get. Ohio State bumped its lead back to double digits after another high-flying 3 from Mitchell, a Maryland turnover and a breakaway layup from Calhoun to make it 72-62. The Buckeyes had control from there.
MARYLAND (25-7): Christinaki 2-5 0-0 4, Jones 3-7 0-0 6, Charles 9-24 4-6 22, Confroy 6-12 0-0 17, Lewis 1-5 0-0 2, Ellison 0-0 0-2 0, Fraser 2-5 1-2 5, Myers 0-0 0-0 0, Small 6-14 1-2 13, Totals 29-72 6-12 69.
OHIO ST. (27-6): Hart 2-7 1-2 5, Mavunga 7-10 1-3 15, Calhoun 4-16 3-4 13, Harper 6-13 2-2 14, Mitchell 7-20 6-7 25, Waterman 3-5 1-2 7, Caretti 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 29-71 14-20 79.
3-point goals: Maryland 5-15 (Christinaki 0-1, Confroy 5-10, Lewis 0-4), Ohio St. 7-20 (Hart 0-2, Calhoun 2-8, Harper 0-1, Mitchell 5-9). Assists: Maryland 17 (Lewis 5), Ohio St. 11 (Harper 4). Fouled out: Maryland Fraser, Ohio St. Hart. Rebounds: Maryland 44 (Charles 11), Ohio St. 44 (Mavunga 12). Total fouls: Maryland 18, Ohio St. 11. A: 4,519. Half: 44-31, OSU