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No. 7 Ohio State snaps Rutgers' home winning streak after third quarter breakdown

On the strength of a 17-point lead built in the third quarter, No. 7 Ohio State defeated the Rutgers women's basketball team, 67-58, at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Sunday to snap the home win streak of the Scarlet Knights (12-8, 3-5) at eight games.

The Buckeyes (15-4, 7-1) rode a 9-0 run to open the second half, ultimately outscoring the Knights, 24-7, in the third period before a moderate comeback from Rutgers fell short in the fourth.

“We always do that,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “So we just wait for the third or fourth quarter to do that. We just like to make sure that everyone knows we can play in the first two quarters and then we fall apart.”

Heading into the locker room for halftime, the two teams were dead even at 30-30.

The Knights left the floor having equaled the Buckeyes with 15 first-half rebounds and 12 points in the paint.

Eleven lead changes and seven ties took place in the first two quarters, signaling all the makings of a competitive second half with the crowd of 1,510 in attendance at the RAC making its presence audible throughout the first 20 minutes.

Then the third quarter began and the wheels fell off for Rutgers.

Junior guard Tyler Scaife — and the rest of the Knights’ backcourt — drew the assignment of holding down the nation’s second leading scorer, guard Kelsey Mitchell, who entered the matchup averaging 25.4 points per game.

Through almost four minutes from the opening tip, Rutgers appeared ready for the challenge.

Mitchell was held scoreless on 0-for-1 shooting until she scored her first points at the 6:04 mark of the first by hitting a 3-pointer.

It was not her last.

Mitchell finished with 22 points, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc with three rebounds to suck the life out of the crowd, the building and the home team.

“We switched our defense to a zone and we did a good job of I.D.-ing (Mitchell) and where she was in the first four minutes,” Scaife said. “Then we kinda got away from that after.”

Mitchell went off, scoring 14 points in the second half helping to swell the visitors' lead to 17 points by the end of the third. It was their largest of the game.

Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff believed the defense and energy the Buckeyes brought out of the locker room at halftime were the main catalysts for building a healthy 54-37 lead at the close of the third quarter.

“I thought our energy level was a lot better when we started the second half,” McGuff said. “I thought we really turned up the defense and that was the key to the game there in the third quarter. We had a little run there where we really got after it defensively. Then we were able to get out in transition.”

Senior wing Kahleah Copper was the top-scorer for Rutgers notching her eighth double-double of the season with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Like Scaife, Copper was also given a difficult defensive assignment.

The Philadelphia native had to team with senior center Rachel Hollivay in order to contain Ohio State’s 6-foot-3 center Alexa Hart.

The Scarlet and White were unsuccessful in that.

Hart scored 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds, repeatedly punishing the Knights in the paint and on the glass.

Hollivay finished with two points and two rebounds in 30 minutes on the floor, but Copper didn’t believe the blame rested upon her teammate’s shoulders.

”I don't think she just got the ball and scored on Rachel (Hollivay),” Copper said. “Guards, we weren't doing a great job defending. We were forcing Rachel to help and we weren't helping the helper. I think that's where a lot of Alexa Hart’s points came from.”

Hart entered the game averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, while Hollivay has been an enigma of late. When she performs her team wins, but when she does not they are unable to overcome it.

Hollivay leads the Big Ten in blocked shots with 60, but also toward the top of the conference in fouls with 63. Not so coincidentally, Copper has 64 fouls.

When the 6-foot-4 center is on the floor she alters most the shots she is unable to block,

Whether it has been a slow start or a bitter finish for Rutgers in the 2015-2016 campaign, the team continues the struggle to put together 40 minutes without lapses.

Stringer addressed the inconsistency in a direct manner in her postgame press conference.

“Nothing changed except we feel the pressure and we mentally strain,” she said of the third quarter. “It scares me in the third-quarter or fourth-quarter. And I don't know what to do about it. Maybe we”ll just pretend that it's the first or the second quarter and play that way.”

The winningest head coach in program history, Stringer has seen it all. Watching her team carelessly give away the ball, she sees fear in her players, an emotion she does not want to use when describing her team.

“The truth of the matter is we cannot afford the type of turnovers that we're getting. Simple as that. And they're the same kind of turnovers," Stringer continued. “That’s a token press. And, you know, if they can do it and get away with it — it looked like we were very tentative, very afraid is the word, which I hate to use, but that's a fact."

For updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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