Behind a suffocating defense and balanced offensive attack, No. 17 Ohio State cruised its way to victory Wednesday at Value City Arena, defeating Slippery Rock 96-48 in its first exhibition game.
The Buckeyes frustrated their Division II opponent by implementing a full-court press throughout the game, holding the team to just 36 percent from the field and forcing 33 turnovers.
Head coach Kevin McGuff said his team implemented this pressing style of defense to disrupt the opponent’s offensive flow and force them to make mistakes away from their basket.
“It’s something we do quite a bit,” McGuff said. “We are trying to really speed the game up and turn them over if we can, or at the very minimum take them out of their rhythm.”
Although Slippery Rock may have been thrown off by this defensive strategy, junior guard Jacy Sheldon, who recorded three steals, said her team came into tonight’s game prepared to press the entire game, as they had practiced this pressure defense throughout the offseason and worked to improve their conditioning.
“That is something we definitely emphasized a lot, in the summer especially,” Sheldon said. “Our conditioning has been something that has been our main focus, and I think it has definitely shown. We are all in pretty good shape and we are working to get in better shape, so that is definitely something we want to continue to do throughout the year.”
Ohio State’s defensive strategy allowed the offense to play with a quick pace and score in transition off of steals and deflections, racking up 42 points off turnovers.
McGuff said his team is most successful when it gets in transition and runs the floor, as it matches his players’ style of play.
“That is a big part of our identity and it plays to the strengths of our team,” McGuff said. “We will certainly continue to emphasize that.”
In the half court, the Buckeyes navigated through Slippery Rock’s 2-3 zone by spacing the floor and moving the ball from side to side, something that McGuff said was crucial to getting favorable scoring opportunities.
“We wanted to make sure we moved the ball and go through the middle [of the defense] because it spreads their zone out,” McGuff said. “When we executed, I thought we got good shots.”
Although McGuff’s team struggled to find success behind the arc, shooting just 26 percent from three, Ohio State penetrated the zone and got offensive production out of a number of players, with five players scoring in double figures.
The Buckeyes’ scoring was spearheaded by junior guard Hevynne Bristow, who led the team in scoring with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The Brooklyn, New York, native also filled the stat sheet with seven rebounds and three steals.
Sophomore guard Gabby Hutcherson also impacted the offense, racking up 15 points and shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line.
McGuff said he was pleased with Bristow and Hutcherson’s performances, as they both stayed poised and played to their strengths on both sides of the ball.
“I thought Hevynne played really hard. She is a good athlete and she played within herself, too,” McGuff said. “Gabby made some shots and played to her strengths, so it was good to see her contribute as well.”
Sheldon said this exhibition victory will serve as a stepping stone for the season, as it allowed the Buckeyes to develop team chemistry and reacclimate themselves with the fans before embarking on a tough 2021-22 regular season schedule.
“With some new people, being familiar with the atmosphere is huge, especially with fans back,” Sheldon said. “Being out there and playing with each other is also huge, so I think it is really good that we have that under our belt. But, we have to continue to get ready because our schedule is really good and the Big Ten is amazing.”
The Buckeyes will begin their regular season against Bucknell at 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at Value City Arena.