LEXINGTON, Ky. — Any time Ohio State needed a lift against Western Kentucky, coach Kevin McGuff got it from his veteran bench.
Especially from junior guard Asia Doss, who's developing a pattern for excelling in NCAA openers.
Kelsey Mitchell and Doss each scored 15 points, Shayla Cooper grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds and Ohio State withstood a late charge from Western Kentucky for a 70-63 victory Friday in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes (27-6) began to take control just before halftime and followed with timely baskets to keep a safe cushion against the No. 12 seed Hilltoppers. Ohio State eventually stretched a seven-point halftime advantage to 64-48 with 4:38 remaining before Western Kentucky used a 15-5 run to make it a two-possession game.
Doss’ free throw with 18 seconds left sealed the outcome for Ohio State, which advances to Sunday's second round against No. 4 seed Kentucky. The Wildcats escaped No. 13 seed Belmont 73-70 in the preceding game.
Ohio State improved to 18-6 in first-round NCAA games, and Doss’ effort comes nearly a year after she scored a career-high 16 points in an opening victory over Buffalo. The 5-foot-7 Detroit native scored 11 before halftime to push the Buckeyes ahead.
Though she couldn't explain the impressive coincidence, Doss did lay out the incentive.
“You just have to go out there and play your game,” she said after making 5 of 7 shots and tying Shayla Cooper with six assists in 26 minutes. “It's win or go home. I feel like that kind of sparks us as a team.”
Alexa Hart added eight points as Ohio State's bench outscored Western Kentucky’s 28-12.
“I think playing in the setting of the NCAA Tournament, there's a little bit of nerves out there from everybody,” McGuff said. “I wanted to get some people in that had played in a game like this before.”
Kendall Noble had 19 points and Tashia Brown 13 for the Hilltoppers (27-7), who had won 12 straight coming in. WKU shot a season-low 29 percent from the field.