MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C.
Ohio State coach Jim Foster wasn’t seeking perfection at the Carrier Classic.
Foster knew it would be difficult to judge the 19th-ranked Buckeyes off their performance aboard the USS Yorktown, win or lose. But he was pleased at how his team nearly erased a 10-point second-half deficit before falling to seventh-ranked Notre Dame 57-51 on Friday night.
In the first half, players on both sides squinted into the setting sun when running toward one basket. After halftime, the decommissioned vessel — now a military museum — was downright chilly.
“We’ll never play in an environment like that again,” Foster said. “So what you learn about yourself is how hard you play.”
Foster discovered a group willing to give the effort he thinks will pay off throughout the season.
Notre Dame went on a 10-3 run to start the second half for a 35-25 lead. Ohio State, though, chipped away behind Tayler Hill’s play. Her driving basket cut Notre Dame’s lead to 47-43 with 4:52 to go and moments later teammate Amber Stokes stole a mid-court pass and took it in for an uncontested layup.
Hill, who led the Big Ten in scoring last season at 20.4 points a game, hit two foul shots with 2:30 to go that brought Ohio State as close as it would come after that, 50-47.
Natalie Achonwa led Notre Dame with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Kayla McBride scored 16 points and Skylar Diggins had 11.
Hill scored 15 of her 18 points in the second half for the Buckeyes, who had won 17 straight season openers before losing on the Yorktown.
It was Diggins, as usual, who orchestrated Notre Dame’s victory.
She got the Irish off to a quick start in the second half, funneling the ball to Achonwa and Kayla McBride to build a 35-25 lead over the first four minutes of the period that Notre Dame would not give up.
“She’s the one who directs us, manages the game, gets us in the offense,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She did a little bit of everything tonight.”
The Fighting Irish moved to 23-3 in season openers under McGraw.
Diggins, a senior, knows this is just the first step on a journey she hopes can end with a national title. The Fighting Irish were runners-up last season, losing to Baylor in the championship game. Moments after this one ended, Diggins talked about pressing forward at practice and in the film room.
“For a lot of us, this is our first experience playing a great Ohio State team,” she said. “We’ve got to continue to get better every day.”
The first women’s game on an aircraft carrier wasn’t easy for either team. The Yorktown was bathed in bright sunshine at the start, leaving players on both teams squinting. Once the sun set on Charleston Harbor, the converted flight deck turned downright chilly.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to playing indoors,” Ohio State’s Foster said with a smile.