Tennessee stumbles in opener as Ohio State pulls off upset

No. 5 Tennessee was stunned by No. 14 Ohio State Tuesday night in Columbus as Buckeyes fans stormed the court after a dramatic 87-75 upset in both teams’ season openers.

It was the first season-opening loss by an Associated Press top-five team to either an unranked roster or a ranked team outside of the top 5 since 2008, when No. 3 Maryland fell to an unranked TCU, according to an ESPN Stats & Information investigation. Prior to Tuesday, such teams had won 69 consecutive competitions, including No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 Iowa as of Monday night.

“I wasn’t sure who would come up in terms of our performance because we hadn’t played anyone before, but I’m really proud of our kids, especially in the first half,” said Ohio State Big Ten coach Kevin McGuff network after the game. “We didn’t play very well. But we kind of pulled ourselves together at half-time and played a great second half.”

The Lady Vols, whose eight national titles are the second-highest in women’s college basketball history, entered the season as Final Four contenders. Led by fourth-year head coach Kellie Harper, they hope to return there for the first time since Candace Parker’s senior year in 2008.

And while Tuesday’s result won’t stop their long-term goal, there were areas of concern they will surely need to address if they are to make it to Dallas. The Lady Vols couldn’t handle the Ohio State press and committed 29 turnovers, one more than their total field goals. It marked the most turnovers for Tennessee since they had 31 in March 2013 against No. 10 Kentucky.

“I thought we were relentless on the press and really rushed them and made them uncomfortable,” McGuff said.

“We knew they were going to press the whole game,” said Tennessee senior guard Jordan Horston. “We just couldn’t run.”

After trailing 12 in the first half, the Buckeyes outplayed Tennessee 54-34 in the final 20 minutes to take control, including 30-13 in the third quarter.

“In the third quarter in particular, we got really passive, and the more passive we got, the more aggressive Ohio State got,” Harper said. “And we just couldn’t get that back.”

“We took a couple of shots,” McGuff said. “I told them at halftime, ‘I like the shots we’re getting. We get great shots. … We’re just not making shots that we’re capable of. So keep playing hard in the press, keep making the pace go. I think we can wear them down and the shots will be fired.'”

Buckeyes senior guard Taylor Mikesell got hot as the game progressed, finishing the game with 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Fellow senior guard Jacy Sheldon had 14 points, eight steals and seven assists.

Horston appeared in her home game and took the floor for the first time since mid-February following a season-ending injury in her junior year. She led Tennessee with 20 points while Minnesota transfer Jasmine Powell, also a senior guard, added 19.

The matchup was only the second between top-25 teams earlier this season. No. 21 Creighton beat No. 23 from the state of South Dakota on Monday.

Tennessee’s schedule isn’t quite slowing down, with non-conference matchups against defending Atlantic 10 tournament champion UMass and Indiana looming. Ohio State has Boston College and Ohio next.

Harper says she intentionally put her team on a tough schedule so they could grow.

“We had to play against a strong team,” she said. “If we took care of basketball a little better, this could have been a different result. I think this is where we need to understand the details. Hopefully this will create a little more urgency for our basketball team with these details.”

Horston added: “Being able to see so early on what we need to work on right now, I have a feeling it’s going to make us better. So we just have to learn from it. … I am not annoyed. We’re not worried at all. It was the first game.”

Ohio State — which won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title before falling to Texas in the Sweet 16 — is now hoping to turn Tuesday’s win into even greater momentum.

“I think we have a ‘never say die’ mentality and we always like to be the underdog,” Mikesell told Big Ten Network. “At the end of the day, we tend to be underestimated. That’s what we come out and do and I think we have a really incredible team.”

https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/34983040/tennessee-stumbles-opener-ohio-state-pulls-upset Tennessee stumbles in opener as Ohio State pulls off upset

Emma Bowman

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