PITTSBURGH — One starting point guard went off, the other simply went off the deep end and the result was one of the most stunning upsets — at least in terms of margin of victory — in recent NCAA women's basketball tournament history.
Mississippi State's Alexis Rack scored 30 points, dished six assists, and had two steals to lead the No. 7 seed Bulldogs to an impressive 87-67 rout of No. 2 seed Ohio State Tuesday in a second round Dayton Region game before 3,966 spectators at the Petersen Events Center.
Rack was 10 for 18 from the field, including 6 for 12 from 3-point range, and led a relentless Mississippi State attack that Ohio State was almost powerless to stop.
But the Bulldogs also were relentless on defense as they made 14 steals and forced 24 turnovers, and, perhaps more impressively, turned those 24 turnovers into 37 points.
"Special, that's how I'd describe this" Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "This was a total team win. We just never quit attacking, and a 37-9 edge in points off turnovers tells a lot of the story."
Rack, who pretty much sealed the Buckeyes' fate — or at the very least broke their spirit — with a banked 3-pointer with 8:37 to play, said the key to the game was the passion with which the Bulldogs played and Buckeyes' inability to match their intensity.
"We just stayed focus and were hungry," Rack said. "We were more hungry than they were and we could feel that. We knew it would be a game of runs and they made their run early. But once we went on our run, we never looked back."
Indeed the Bulldogs (21-12), who will next play Florida State (28-5), didn't look back once they got started, but it took them a little bit of time to get going as they actually trailed 27-19 with 8:56 to play in the first half.
But at that point they turned up their defensive intensity and made a 12-5 run to pull to within 32-31 at the 4:32 mark, then took a 34-32 lead at the 3:59 mark on a 3-pointer by Mary Kathryn Govero, who scored 15 points, and never again trailed.
Mississippi State pushed its lead to 12 points by halftime 46-34 and Ohio State was never able to pull any closer than nine points, mostly because the Buckeyes could not stop the Bulldogs from the outside, where they were 12 for 22 beyond the 3-point arc.
Ohio State also struggled on offense because standout point guard Samantha Prahalis had an uncharacteristically bad night, and they never found a rhythm.
Prahalis scored 14 points but had 10 turnovers and also fouled out with a technical foul for yelling at an official after she thought she got fouled.
"When Sammy started to struggle, it became a problem for us between the ears," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. "Their quickness off the dribble was a problem in terms of our ability to stay in front of them. But when she started to struggle, we got tentative, and, between the ears, we really lost it in my opinion. We played hard, but not smart."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Paul Zeise is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.