IOWA CITY — Kelsey Mitchell got her points Thursday night for Ohio State, but the Iowa women’s basketball team earned what mattered more — the win.
The Hawkeyes ended a three-game losing streak by starting fast and finishing strong in a 103-89 victory over the 12th-rated Buckeyes in front of a crowd of 6,012 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa took control by outworking Ohio State from the start.
The Hawkeyes trailed only once — at 2-0 — and used 61 percent shooting in the first half to build a 53-44 halftime lead that Iowa did not allow the Buckeyes to catch.
Iowa pounded the ball inside to Megan Gustafson and then regained a perimeter shooting touch that had been absent in its last three games to keep Ohio State off balance.
Gustafson needed just over six minutes to score 12 of her game-high 29 points, feasting on passes into the post to help Iowa to a 20-6 start that coach Lisa Bluder labeled critical.
“We had to come out and establish that, ‘Yeah, we’re here to play’ and show them and ourselves that we were as good as Ohio State,’’ Bluder said. “We needed a big first quarter, and we got it.’’
Players diving for loose balls, a block by Gustafson, six early points that led Chase Coley to a 12-point, 11 rebound game and a steal and a block by Kathleen Doyle during the opening quarter all contributed to setting a tone.
"We came out ready. We wanted this game," Doyle said.
Even after three consecutive losses, Bluder sensed that on the practice court.
"This group never lost faith or stopped believing in each other," Bluder said. "This is as unselfish of a team as I’ve ever coached."
That showed as Iowa collected 26 assists on its 37 baskets. It also showed in the way the Hawkeyes competed.
"There were a lot of hustle plays to begin this game, and I think that set the tempo for all of us," Bluder said. "When you see your teammate diving on the floor for a loose ball and making that extra effort, it gives you energy."
Mitchell finished with 27 points, keeping the Buckeyes within striking distance throughout much of the game.
Iowa countered with the long ball.
After connecting on 5-of-37 attempts from 3-point range during its three-game losing streak, the Hawkeyes hit 9-of-17 against Ohio State (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten).
Makenzie Meyer hit the first of her four after the Buckeyes had pulled within 38-34 midway through the second quarter, then drained one to open the third quarter and send the Hawkeyes on their way to a 58-44 advantage.
Ohio State answered, pulling within 66-64 on a basket by Asia Doss with 3:11 remaining in a third quarter that ended with Doyle connecting on one of her four 3-point baskets, a buzzer-beater that sent Iowa (16-5, 4-4) into the final 10 minutes up 77-69.
The Buckeyes were within 92-87 with 3:20 to play, but a basket by Amanda Ollinger and a 3-pointer that came as part of a career-high 25 points from Doyle left the Hawkeyes in front 97-87 with 2:23 to go.
Gustafson headed to the bench at that point following a face-to-face collision with Sierra Calhoun but returned less than minute later to help finish off the win.
"If I could get hit in the face like that every game and we’d win like that, I’d do it," Gustafson said. "This one means a lot."
Bluder would prefer not to see her own Big Ten player of the year candidate on the floor, a bit dazed late in a game but she agreed with the junior’s final assessment.
"It was an awfully big win for us," Bluder said. "… Something we really needed."