Lexington, Ky. (AP) – 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 on 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 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.
THE BIG PICTURE
Western Kentucky: Three-point shooting helped the Hilltoppers lead several times in the first half and stay within range early in the second. But they also had several cold stretches from behind the arc in an attempt to rally and ended up 9 of 37 (24 percent).
''We had been shooting 3-pointers pretty well,'' coach Michelle Clark-Heard said, ''so our plan was to get as many 3s as we could, open it up and try pull-up jumpers after that. We wanted to keep them off the boards and make sure we played an aggressive ballgame for the first five minutes, because we know how fast they can put points on the board.''
Ohio State: The Buckeyes had 21 assists, the second time in three games they've had at least 20. OSU also had nine blocks and was nearly even with WKU on the boards (44-43). Those numbers were good enough to offset 19 turnovers. ... Tori McKoy had 12 points before fouling out.
FIGURE OF SPEECH
Cooper used a term normally used by coaches to describe several small runs that ultimately gave Ohio State a buffer against Hilltoppers rallies. While media present knew what she meant, the senior forward quickly explained that it was just a saying.
''We just had to punch them in the face, as we say,'' she said. ''We would do it and they'd start coming back, so we had to keep doing it -figuratively, not literally. They're a great shooting team. We know that because we'd get up by a little bit (and) that just wasn't enough.''
Ohio State faces Kentucky in the second round on Sunday.