After a run of four games without much competition for the Ohio State women’s basketball team, the schedule took a sharp turn towards the highly competitive. The Buckeyes traveled south for a game against the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals, a team not meeting their own high expectations. In a game that looked like a Cardinals win for three quarters, Ohio State fought back from a 14-point deficit to win 96-77.
A boost for the visiting Buckeyes was the availability of guard Jacy Sheldon. Leading into the game, the guard missed two straight games with a lower leg injury, listed as day-to-day by head coach Kevin McGuff and the training staff. Sheldon started the game and right away picked up where she left off, grabbing a steal on the Cardinals' first possession.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they had trouble capitalizing on that turnover and a second on the Cardinals' second possession. The intensity of the home fans created a tough environment for Ohio State, and the Cardinals ever-changing defensive schemes caused initial issues for the Scarlet & Gray.
Leading the Cardinals early was graduate guard Morgan Jones. The Florida State transfer was aggressive, grabbing two steals of her own and scoring seven points in the first four minutes.
The shooting for Ohio State wasn’t with normal, open looks they’ve been able to create this season. Instead, the pressure from Louisville, and the Buckeyes unable to break it, put Ohio State down 12-3 with under four minutes to play in the first quarter. That’s when Ohio State went on a quick run.
In just over two minutes, the Buckeyes had five points from guard Taylor Mikesell in a nine-point run to bring the game even. Part of that run included plays by forwards Rebeka Mikulášiková and Taylor Thierry.
Mikulášiková started things off with a steal and was on the end of the final pass of the run down the court, hitting the layup. On the next possession, Thierry had a block on edge of the paint, making what looked like a tough start of the game for Ohio State into a more competitive contest.
What did the Buckeyes in, giving the home side another lead, was rebounding. The Cardinals out-rebounded the Buckeyes 10-5 in the first quarter. On one play, the Ohio State defense successfully forced a tough, contested, shot from deep to beat the buzzer. The shot hit off the rim but no Buckeyes were there to fight for it, and two Louisville players had an easy rebound and follow-up layup.
Louisville entered the second quarter up 28-15, going on a 13-6 run to end the quarter. Part of the Cardinals' bump was outstanding junior guard Hailey Van Lith, scoring six in that run but mostly from the free throw line.
Fouls kept Ohio State from pressing as much, getting into trouble early, and putting the home team in the bonus. There were some odd calls in the first half, including one on guard Madison Greene, who came off the bench for the Buckeyes, when after her shot she collided with a Louisville player, puzzling Greene and coach McGuff.
In the second quarter, Ohio State got into potential trouble when Mikulášiková and forward Olivia Cochran collided on a Mikesell three. Going to the ground hard, Mikulášiková needed a minute to get up, and favored her left leg before the action continued. She stayed in the game, but after picking up her second foul of the half, went off the court and into the tunnel.
Mikulášiková returned before the half was done, but when she was off the court, McGuff went with a smaller lineup of Sheldon, Mikesell, Greene, guard Rikki Harris, and Thierry in as the forward for rebounding purposes.
With Thierry playing as the big, the Buckeyes settled down and kept up with rebounding, with both sides grabbing nine in the second quarter. Ohio State began getting open, with Sheldon and Greene each hitting open threes, trimming the Louisville lead to six at one point.
Ohio State ended up going into the halftime locker room down eight, in a 45-37 game.
The start to the third quarter was tough for the Buckeyes, looking like Louisville was going to begin turning the screw. The Cardinals hit a three and midrange jumper to go up 13 points, but Ohio State went running again.
In the visitors' 11-point run, Thierry contributed both offensively and defensively. Showing the same confidence she's built early this year, Thierry found space hitting a layup. To follow up the two points, Thierry ran up behind Louisville’s Jones for a steal, without Jones knowing it was coming.
What stood out in the run was the diversity of scoring. Every Buckeye on the court scored at least a point in Ohio State’s 15-2 run, putting Ohio State level with the Cardinals for only the second time in the game.
Then, it felt like the Buckeyes finally settled into their game. Like their first game of the season, the third quarter saw Ohio State earn their first lead of the game and they achieved it in an unexpected way — rebounding.
Ohio State out-rebounded the Cardinals 11 to 6, with Greene and Harris getting into the trenches with three apiece.
With 2:51 left in the third, Mikesell got to the line for three free throws, and the third would‘ve put Ohio State in the lead but she hit it off the iron. The Buckeyes not only grabbed the first rebound, going to Mikesell for a missed layup, but two on the offensive boards with Mikesell determined to put the Buckeyes ahead, hitting a floater in the paint to go up two points.
In the home of Louisville’s own Muhammad Ali, both teams went blow-for-blow to end the third, but Ohio State held onto their two-point lead at the end of the third, up 65-63.
The final quarter initially lacked a lot of momentum. Early fouls and timeouts by both teams turned the first two minutes into more of a slog, but trudging through it effectively was the Buckeyes.
Ohio State did it through inventive moves to the basket and different screen looks for the Louisville defense. The Buckeyes grew a two-point lead entering the fourth into a 14-point lead on a 14-point run.
Louisville was obviously frustrated, missing nine of their first 11 shots in the first 4:30 of the quarter.
Sheldon, on her return, had five of those 14 points, including a highlight reel move on First Team All-ACC guard Van Lith. From beyond the arc, Sheldon crossed the guard over, causing her to fall back a couple of steps. Sheldon hit the open three. Immediately after, Louisville guard Chrislyn Carr showed the home side’s frustration, knocking Harris over from deep, in a rough foul.
The final four minutes looked like the end of the third, with Louisville trying to find a lead again, but Ohio State held on to beat the No. 18 Cardinals 96-77.
Sheldon Strikes Back
The presence of the Buckeyes' starting point guard was missed over the last two games, even if the scores didn’t resemble it.
In Sheldon’s return, the press looked better and Ohio State forced 23 turnovers with the returning guard grabbing two herself. Points-wise, Sheldon had 22, even though it felt like a quieter performance considering how tough the Buckeyes looked in the first half.
Adding to the fun, with 1:25 left in the fourth, and the Buckeyes up 21 points, Sheldon even blocked a Van Lith three from the corner.
Rebounding Rebounding Rebounding
An Achilles heel of the Buckeyes from last season, into this year, was rebounding. Wednesday was a perfect example of how it hurts and helps coach McGuff’s side. As Ohio State began showing fight in the paint, their extra possession turned into extra points. Also, once the points drop, the pressure increases.
Every Buckeye grabbed a rebound in the game, with not only one or two players taking control of the glass. Leading the game was substitute Harris with 10.
A key to the Buckeyes' victory was McGuff’s adjustments in game. Going small in the second quarter allowed a group of four quick guards to get around a Louisville group of forwards who were pestering Ohio State all game.
Entering the second half, coach McGuff also kept Cotie McMahon, who got into foul trouble and played only two second-quarter minutes, on the bench. That was in favor of Greene who along with Sheldon gave Ohio State multiple facilitators on the court.
Greene’s hot hand was good for 14 points and five assists in the game. Rewarding the decision by the Buckeyes coach.
The Buckeyes now focus on Big Ten play. Sunday, Ohio State is back on the road, this time heading to New Jersey to face Rutgers University. After an early 11:00 a.m. ET Thursday game against the New Hampshire Wildcats, Big Ten play returns for the first home conference game of the season against the Michigan State Spartans on Sunday, Dec. 11.