COLUMBUS – This wasn’t the way Ohio State wanted to come into the NCAA Tournament.
The Buckeyes lost three of their last four games, including bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament with an 82-63 loss to Michigan State in the semifinals.
But the NCAA Tournament is a clean slate and the Buckeyes are ready to start over when they host Buffalo in the first round at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
The Buckeyes had won 19 of 20 games before suffering consecutive setbacks – a 90-88 overtime loss at Minnesota and a 107-105 triple overtime loss at Michigan State.
In the Big Ten tournament, they handled Rutgers, 73-58, in the quarterfinals, but senior guard and team leader Ameryst Alston injured her right (and shooting) wrist diving for a loose ball in the third quarter. Alston tried to go in the semifinal matchup with Michigan State but played just 10 minutes and the Buckeyes couldn’t find their offensive groove.
Head coach Kevin McGuff said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Alston will be able to play against Buffalo.
In the meantime, while Alston has been working on getting healthy, the Buckeyes have had nearly two full weeks to right their ship.
“We practiced really hard last week and this week, too,” McGuff said. “When you lose three out of four at the end of the year it really forces you to examine where you are, what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well ... We just weren’t performing things with the same amount of intensity that we had been doing for a while. That’s where we put most of our time and energy.”
While Buffalo is celebrating its first trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Bulls are part of another first. It’s the first time the Big 4 has two teams in the women’s field.
And that’s kind of cool, especially for UB junior forward Cassie Oursler, who played her high school ball at Grand Island.
“Me and (Lancaster’s) Katie Healy battled all throughout high school so I know she’s good and she’s been killing it at St. Bonaventure,” Oursler said. “Just to see her have success too, it’s definitely Western New York pride. I’m proud two of the Big 4s made it in. It’s really awesome.”
For UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack, it’s a sign not necessarily of the growth of basketball in the area, but that schools are attracting local talent.
“I’m from Syracuse and I played Empire State Games and I always had a fondness for Western New York,” Legette-Jack said. “I always thought we had one or two unbelievable players, but sometimes they got away ... I’m like what happens if they all stay? ... To see that St. Bonaventure has been doing it for so many years alone, we can help in that quest to build Western New York. Right now there’s so much going on in Buffalo – all the canals and everything is so amazing – except for college sport. What Nate Oats and I are trying to do along with St. Bonaventure and Canisius and Niagara is to make college sports exciting and fun as well as the pro sports. I think we’re taking baby steps. We have a long way to go but I think the community is starting to see that we won’t stop. We will not stop until greatness is not just in the Bills and Sabres but also in college sports, too.”
The other first-round game at St. John Arena features West Virginia against Princeton with the opening tip at noon Friday.
Last year, West Virginia went to the WNIT final, losing to UCLA, 62-60, in the championship game. It’s the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Mountaineers since 2014.
Princeton, meanwhile, became the first team in Ivy League history to earn an at-large berth since the conference obtained an automatic qualifier in the 1993-94 season.