Entering Tuesday’s game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Tennessee Volunteers, it looked like a game on paper that heavily favored the Vols. That’s why the games are played though, with the Scarlet & Gray silencing the orange of Rocky Top in an 87-75 win. Here’s what Land-Grant Holy Land took away from Tuesday’s win.
Although it's hard to take a lot from an exhibition game against a small in-state school when talking about a game against a top-5 opponent, head coach Kevin McGuff kept the same starting five as he did playing Notre Dame College. McGuff opted to go with two guards in Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, two forwards in Cotie McMahon and Rebeka Mikulášiková, and a guard who plays a lot like a forward in Taylor Thierry.
Ohio State couldn’t match the Vols in size, so going with this group was the closest they could get to matching Tennessee’s on-court athleticism. It wasn’t meant to directly compete with Tennessee on the boards or inside, but the Buckeyes didn’t need to. Each of the five starters played their roles well throughout the game and kept the game close before the Buckeyes pulled away in the third quarter.
Disrupting the Vols
It was evident from the start that Ohio State wasn’t going to compete one-for-one with Tennessee. Instead, their plan was to agitate the visitors and not let them settle into their half-court offense. The defense did exactly that, which allowed the Buckeyes to stay in the game despite tough shooting.
McGuff’s side forced 29 turnovers, three shy of Tennessee’s single-game record of 32. Leading the charge for the Bucks was Sheldon. Guard Madison Greene was second on the team with three, with 16 steals overall.
Another low-key name in the disruption was Ohio State’s Rikki Harris. When the guard entered the game off the bench, she was close to offensive players and didn’t allow easy looks.
The Vols had every reason to be confident and looked the part for the first half. Even with center Tamari Key getting into foul trouble, playing two minutes in the first half, Tennessee still went into the half up eight points.
After Ohio State began hitting shots in the third quarter, the Vols' confidence was shot, and it showed on the court. Coaches often talk about mental toughness, and Tuesday saw a Buckeyes team who might have lost a rebounding or shooting battle, but far outperformed their opponent in mentality.
Part of the reason Tennessee could be so confident was Ohio State’s shooting or lack thereof.
The environment and hype surrounding Tuesday seemed to cause nerves for the home team. Even with open looks, the Buckeyes shot 10%, 1-for-10, from three, 39% from the floor, 50% on free throws. Even so, Ohio State was only down eight points going into the half, coincidentally missing eight free throws, with uncharacteristic misses.
Ohio State stayed patient despite the problems, and once the looks began to drop the game flipped. The Buckeyes' 63% shooting overall and 6-for-13 three-point shooting in the second half showed that the game could’ve handily gone to the home side in the first half too.
Mikulášiková and Thierry’s Quietly Strong Performances
The Buckeye’s big night had two unlikely sources. Looking only at the stat sheet, Mikulášiková and Thierry show one player who missed six of their eight threes, and the latter fouling out. Below the surface is a different story.
Entering the second half, it was Thierry and Mikulášiková creating highlights before Mikesell’s 15-point quarter got going. Thierry’s 10 points are the sophomore’s career high for points, and her moves to the basket looked effortless. Also, the Northeast Ohioan had four rebounds but they came under pressure and won possession for the Buckeyes.
Even those fouls show a positive for Thierry. Even though she got into trouble with the officials, Thierry kept playing her game, which was a problem last year when fouls led to more timid performances.
For Mikulášiková, missing those six three-pointers, all of them from open positions, allowed Tennessee to focus their defense elsewhere. In that third quarter, Mikulášiková looked defeated from deep. After a first half where she threw up chances that missed, Mikulášiková received the ball beyond the arc and would look to shoot but ultimately pass away. One move though helped turn the tide.
Down five with 4:33 left in the third, Mikulášiková again had the ball at the top of the key, with a defender far enough away to let off an unchallenged three. Instead, Mikulášiková faked the three, made a move around the defender, and attacked the rim.
Now only behind two points, Mikulášiková finally hit her shot. At the 4:07 mark, at the same spot where she opted for the lay-up, Mikulášiková hit the game-tying three. The arena erupted and the game wasn’t the same.
Listen to that crowd the moment the game was tied too.
Tuesday’s game recap covers how big of a night Sheldon and Mikesell had, with Mikesell’s 25 points leading the field and Sheldon’s defense almost leading to a triple-double with steals.
It should be stressed that Sheldon was why Ohio State stuck with the game in the first half. The first seven points all went through Sheldon with steals, assists, and the lone three of the first half.
For Mikesell, offensively she took over. The guard outscored the Volunteers in the third quarter 15-13 and missing shots early didn’t phase her. Mikesell also had rest, which she didn’t get much down the stretch last season. That’s due to the number of players who got onto the court Tuesday.
Greene Strengthens Guard Group
To match up with the Vols, Greene didn’t start the game, but when she came in her impact was felt. Greene was one of only two Buckeyes to have a positive +/- in the first half. When Greene stepped onto the court, her ball handling and defense made a difference.
In the first half, Greene only had three points but was able to dribble out of a Tennessee defense that towered above the 5-foot-8 guard. That same guard grabbed two rebounds and a steal in a solid bench performance in the first half. As the season continues, Greene has a strong chance to get back into the starting lineup and make more of an impact.
McMahon and Shumate Debut
Both McMahon and guard Emma Shumate made their NCAA debuts on Tuesday. The two ended the night with 11 combined points, 10 to McMahon, but they both were impactful.
McMahon fought back from two quick early fouls in the first quarter to contribute offensively and defensively. In the third, McMahon created her own steal and fast break opportunity, showing extreme confidence for a freshman playing her first game at the college level.
Shumate played 12 minutes off the bench, but the guard gave Ohio State energy and flexibility. At one point, Shumate switched to more of a forward because of her ability to jump and rebound.
Greene, Sheldon, Mikesell, and Shumate were on the court at the same time for her shift to forward, which is a group that allows the Buckeyes to be dangerous on offense. Shumate at forward has merit too, with the 6-foot-1 player leading everyone on the court with three blocks.