The Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team opened up home conference play Sunday, welcoming the Michigan State Spartans to the Schottenstein Center. After a stretch of seven days where the Scarlet & Gray won both games, but had their up and down moments, a home conference game brought a chance to get back to playing a consistent 40 minutes to go 10-0. In a game where no team put up their best performance, Ohio State pulled off their closest win of the year 74-68.
Missing for the third game in a row was guard Jacy Sheldon. After sitting out of games against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and New Hampshire Wildcats this week, with a day-to-day lower leg injury, the rest wasn’t enough to allow the point guard to take the court.
Instead, guard Madison Greene started her third game in a row for the Buckeyes, against a Michigan State team working on incorporating new talent.
From the jump, Scarlet & Gray forward Cotie McMahon looked like a player wanting a big game on a big stage. After an initial Spartans miss, McMahon ran the floor, attacking the rim and missing the layup. The miss didn’t matter though, because McMahon grabbed her own layup rebound and hit the follow-up layup.
Seconds later, McMahon did the work on the other side of the court, leaping high off the floor to grab a Sunday afternoon steal like an NFL wide receiver.
Michigan State pressed the Buckeyes but Ohio State didn’t have issues early getting out of the defensive set. Instead, the Spartans left the paint open and quick passing allowed the Buckeyes to find shooters.
Benefiting from the coverage early was guard Taylor Mikesell. The Northeast Ohioan scored eight points early off two made threes and her favorite attacking the basket move of the teardrop layup.
There were four lead changes early, but the Buckeyes led Sparty 17-13 at the media timeout. Overall in the first quarter, there were 12 fouls called, seven going to Michigan State. That put a top performer from each team into foul trouble early. Both Ohio State’s forward Rebeka Mikulášiková and Michigan guard Matilda Ekh on the bench in the first 10 minutes.
Even so, out of the media timeout the game went the Buckeyes way. The Buckeyes scored 12 of the final 15 points of the quarter, with Greene scoring six from the foul line.
Then, in the second quarter, shooting got tough for the Buckeyes. In the first five minutes of the quarter, the Scarlet & Gray scored one point, on a free throw by Mikulášiková, who head coach Kevin McGuff opted to bring back into the game with two fouls.
Luckily for coach McGuff’s side, Michigan State struggled themselves but scored eight, bringing the Ohio State lead down to five. It took 6:54 before the Buckeyes hit a basket from the run of play, with a Greene steal and Mikesell layup getting Ohio State on the board.
From there, the Buckeyes went streaking. Less than a minute after being up five, Ohio State had three steals overall and stretched the lead to 11, forcing a timeout by the visitors.
After an 0-for-8 shooting start to the second quarter, Ohio State hit five of their last seven to keep a double-digit lead, heading into the locker room up 42-32.
Into the third quarter, the Buckeyes began hot, hitting two of their first four shots, with Mikulášiková hitting two early threes. Ohio State extended their lead to 18, but then went cold, hitting 1-of-6 and committing five turnovers. That let Michigan State back into the game, with the visitors going on a 9-0 run.
Also, the third quarter saw Spartans guard Deedee Hagemann, usually a starter at point guard, get her first minutes entering the third quarter. Hagemann made an impact, scoring five points and bringing energy to a Spartans team that needed it.
It became a game that the Buckeyes needed to claw back to stop any sort of Spartans momentum. They did it by taking advantage of the quick whistles of the officials. Ohio State attacked the basket, getting to the free throw line.
Greene led the way, scoring five points in the second half of the third quarter and making three shots from the free throw line.
Right before the end of the quarter though, it was a tough moment for Michigan State. Guard Gabby Elliott, who was tied for most points by a Spartan with 11, went down holding the back of her left thigh, right above her knee. It was a tense few minutes as no medical team came out from the arena, instead the Michigan State coaches and training staff helped Elliott walk off the court.
Entering the fourth quarter, Ohio State held a five-point lead and needed to hit shots to have a chance at keeping the Spartans at bay.
It didn’t begin that way, and the Buckeyes struggled, missing their first two shots. Michigan State brought the game within three, and Ohio State called a timeout with 7:33 remaining to pull out a conference win.
Ohio State felt like they’d start another streak of scoring, with Greene having to hurl a shot at the shot clock and McMahon grabbing the offensive rebound and layup. However, Michigan State answered with a three to cut the Buckeyes lead to two, their closest game in the fourth quarter all season.
With less than a minute left, Michigan State cut it to a one-point deficit, but had to foul to stop further Buckeyes scoring. Ohio State got to the line, and Greene made one of two free throws to go up two, but Michigan State had possession and the chance to tie or go ahead with 32.8 seconds remaining.
On the play, out of the timeout, it was Hagemann who attacked the basket. There to stop a second-chance shot, also by Hagemann, was Thierry who blocked the attempt away.
Mikesell was fouled after the play, and in the bonus, Mikesell hit both free throws. On the defensive end though, they couldn’t stop Hagemann a third time, getting to the rim and landing the layup, going back within a possession.
The Buckeyes almost threw the ball away, trying to get it to Mikesell, but the guard caught the ball that went into the backcourt just before going out of bounds. Mikesell went to the line and again grabbed both free throws to push to a four-point lead.
Ohio State came away with the win, in a dangerously close win for the No. 3 Buckeyes, 74-68.
Keeping it Close
On Sunday more than any game this season, the Buckeyes felt a team breathe down their necks. Michigan State wasn’t intimidated by a No. 3 in front of Ohio State’s name and had every chance of winning.
Even going up 18 points in the second, those game-changing runs for Ohio State were few and far between, even against a young Spartans team.
High Percentage Taylor Thierry
When Ohio State needed scoring, it was Thierry who was there consistently for the Buckeyes. The guard/forward led the home side in a tough shooting quarter with 15 points. Those shots, 12 of her 15 points, came from inside the paint. Thierry attacked the rim with a growing confidence, accounting for six of her eight first half shots.
Thierry also added an open three from the corner, showing the diversity that McGuff likes to see in his players.
In the second half, already at her career high of 15 points, Thierry got going early defensively, blocking a charging Ekh down the baseline. Thierry played a strong second half, adding six points and six rebounds on a career 21-point night.
After Sunday’s game, Ohio State takes three games off from conference play. It begins with the University of Albany on Friday, Dec. 16, then a trip to San Diego for two in-season tournament games.
On Dec. 20, the Buckeyes face the USF Bulls. The next day it’s either the No. 17 Oregon Ducks or Arkansas Razorbacks, depending on the outcome of their Dec. 20 match-up at the San Diego Invitational.