Entering 2021/22, there weren’t a lot of expectations for the Ohio State women’s basketball team, at least from outside of the program. That side went on to win a Big Ten regular season co-championship and was a couple of possessions away from a run into the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
Now the Buckeyes, with a similar roster, are off to a 10-0 start that features two wins against ranked teams, two conference wins, and a No. 3 AP Poll national ranking. The difference is an off-court connection that’s turned teammates into family members.
“People will stay here hours, to five hours, after practice in the locker room hanging out,” said redshirt junior guard, and team leader, Rikki Harris. “We hang out so much outside of the gym and we don’t have problems with each other. We’re completely honest with each other, so it keeps us respectful to each other because no matter what you do, someone’s going to be honest with you.”
All teams connect in some way, but Harris knows more than many on the roster about how things can be different. Ohio State entered last season losing two starters to the transfer portal, that’s after the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the Buckeyes' postseason run of 2020, and self-imposed sanctions for team violations kept Ohio State out of the postseason in 2021.
In past seasons, there would be a handful of players who were close, and then smaller groups outside of the larger group. The past two years it's different, and it goes back to respect.
“We respect each other’s game,” said Harris. “We all know that nobody’s talking down on anybody, everybody be like, ‘you can do whatever you can do,’ and we do it.”
A newer part of the chemistry is freshman Cotie McMahon. Although she joined Ohio State in the Jan. 2022 semester, McMahon hasn’t played in a competitive game with the Buckeyes until this season.
After a strong NCAA debut with 10 points and two steals against the then No. 5 ranked Tennessee Volunteers, McMahon’s had some up-and-down games. The learning curve of a talented freshman gets the same respect as a veteran like senior guard Jacy Sheldon.
The Buckeyes know McMahon’s talent and even if she shoots and misses, her teammates want her to continue playing her game. That game’s already showing signs of improvement, with Harris citing McMahon’s early intensity needed a slight step back.
Since making adjustments, McMahon had a two-game week scoring a combined 28 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and six steals. It won her the B1G Freshman of the Week award.
For the first-year Buckeye basketball player, two moments stick out to her that show that team bond.
First, the Scarlet and Gray’s trip to Louisville, Ky to face the then No. 18 ranked Louisville Cardinals. In that game, Harris went off. Playing through a cold that Harris said post-game didn’t allow her to breathe, on a night where she didn’t expect to get many minutes, Harris grabbed 10 rebounds and six assists. Part of a 14-point comeback, and a 19-point win.
The other moment came four days later, in the Buckeyes’ first conference game of the season. Against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Ohio State had a rough offensive game. Although the Scarlet & Gray bested the Scarlet Knights by 12 points, only six players scored points, and four were held to single digits. Of Ohio State’s 82 points, 61 came from guard Taylor Mikesell and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková.
Mikesell’s 30 and Mikulášiková’s team-high 31 pushed the Buckeyes to their first conference win of the season, on the road against a rebuilding, but still tough and proud, Rutgers side. Both games made an impact on McMahon.
“It just kind of makes you realize, nobody on this team is selfish, everyone is here for each other,” said McMahon. “We support each other tremendously. Just to see that first hand, it really makes you feel good and it motivates you to kind of give your shirt off to each other on the team.”
Ohio State takes that respect, trust, and family mentality into their last, and toughest, non-conference week of the regular season. After a home game on Friday against the University of Albany, the Buckeyes travel to San Diego, California for a two-day in-season invitational tournament.
On the first day, Ohio State faces the USF Bulls. Depending on the results from the two initial tournament games, the Buckeyes could face either the No. 16 Oregon Ducks or Arkansas Razorbacks. McMahon and Harris made it clear who they want to play in the second game, and it goes back to supporting their teammates.
“I just want to play Oregon,” said McMahon, confidently.
It’s not for the chance to play another ranked side and potentially bolster their resume. It’s for Mikesell. The Northeast Ohio guard transferred to the Buckeyes from the Ducks prior to the 21/22 season. Last season, Mikesell eluded to a tough season in Oregon where her minutes were cut, limiting the impact of a First Team All-B1G guard.
“She (Mikesell) hasn’t gotten to play them yet since she left,” said Harris. “I know that’d be a big one for her.”
McMahon added after Harris, “to make a statement.”
It’s all about the family, to the Buckeyes.