The Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team spent all of the early 22/23 season near the East Coast. On Tuesday, the timezone changed along with the challenge ahead of themselves, playing two games in two days against a slate of tough opponents. Up first in the San Diego Invitational was the USF Bulls. Although unranked, the Buckeyes fought a tough Bulls side and picked up the 88-86 overtime win on a big three by guard Taylor Mikesell.
Ohio State began the game like recent starts of late. That meant slow scoring and this time it came back to hurt the Buckeyes quickly. The Buckeyes opened the game shooting 3-for-15 from the floor, missing all five three-point attempts.
On the other side, the Bulls came to play. Hurting the Buckeyes the most was forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu. The Buckeyes couldn’t stop the 6-foot-4 Cameroonian from rebounding and scoring inside the paint. Fankam Mandjiadeu hit a double-double in the first half, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, showing that Ohio State had no answer for the big.
The only response the Scarlet & Gray had in the first quarter was forward Cotie McMahon. Like the last two games, the freshman led early Buckeyes scoring. Tuesday it was seven of Ohio State’s 11 first-quarter points.
Going Into the second half down 10, things got worse for head coach Kevin McGuff’s side. After guard Taylor Mikesell missed her first two free throws of the quarter, the Bulls pushed the lead further.
Mainly through shooting from guard Sammie Puisis. The Mason, Ohio junior found space to shoot on the right wing and kept making her chances. USF ballooned their lead up to 18 points, while Ohio State’s shooting continued to struggle.
Even so, the Buckeyes showed flashes; late into the second quarter, after not scoring in the first 4:34 of the quarter. Substitute guard Rikki Harris helped provide a spark, hitting a three and a layup in the paint. For McMahon, she continued her scoring on the night hitting double-digit scoring, scoring 13 in the first half and adding two steals for good measure.
Slowly, Ohio State began to chip away at the lead. With a minute remaining in the first half, the Buckeyes chipped it down to less than 10. The reason was flexing forward/guard Taylor Thierry. The Cleveland, Ohio native scored six consecutive points, including timely rebounding on the offensive boards, and beginning to force turnovers in the press.
The Buckeyes ended up outscoring the Bulls by one in the second quarter, cutting a 10-point deficit down to nine with one half of basketball remaining.
Which Ohio State would come out of the locker room for the second half? The version that makes people forget about the first half, on their way to a big win or a repeat of the first half?
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it was the latter. Halfway through the third quarter, Ohio State’s shooting sat at 33.3%, allowing the Bulls put the lead back up to 13. McMahon and Thierry were the only players in scarlet scoring points, but they are also missing opportunities.
Thierry had three with five minutes remaining in the quarter, but also shot 3-for-6 from the free throw line. Three points that could have put the Buckeyes within three possessions.
At that point, the Bulls didn’t have to do anything but slow the clock down and continue to make shots. They did the first part, holding the ball long into their possessions but the defense of Ohio State began to make an impact.
Ohio State held the Bulls to 35.3% shooting in the third, and Greene and McMahon added seven and six points respectively. At one point, the Scarlet and Gray cut the lead to five points, but USF pushed it back out.
USF guard Daniela Gonzalez hit a layup and bonus shot from the free throw line and Puisis hit a tough three from the corner, right in front of a fired-up Bulls’ bench. Ohio State entered the fourth quarter down nine and needing big help to put themselves into any position to win.
Instead, USF came out continuing to play their game, namely through continued strong scoring by Puisis and Fankam Mendjiadeu. The forward scored five points in the paint, two layups, and a free throw, while Puisis again hurt McGuff’s side from deep. Within the first two minutes of the last quarter, the Buckeyes were down 13 points.
Looking like they were down and close to out, Ohio State came to life, going on a 10-point run to cut the Bulls’ lead to three. Adding an exclamation point to the run was Harris. With USF attacking inside the paint, Harris timed a block perfectly, sending the ball into an Ohio State offensive possession that put the game within one possession.
Still without points on the night, Mikesell forced a turnover, and Ohio State went running again. This time, Mikesell took the ball herself into the paint but was fouled in the process. Mikesell hit her first two points of the night, free throws, and got the Scarlet & Gray within one.
All USF could get, scoring-wise, was attempts at the free throw line and one layup. For Ohio State, they forced turnovers and Thierry and Greene put the offensive pressure on their shoulders.
Thierry hit 10 points and Greene gave Ohio State their first lead with three of her five points in the quarter with under three minutes remaining in the final 10 minutes. Then, with 3:24 left in the game, the Buckeyes were dealt a blow.
Greene went to the ground hard, immediately clutching her knee and needing treatment. The Buckeyes bench was visibly shaken by the injury, with her long-time teammates in tears on the court.
The guard left being helped off the court, and the game continued. Ohio State and USF traded layups initially but the Bulls went ahead four on a tough giveaway by the Buckeyes after forcing a turnover, down two at the time.
Ohio State kept battling back, and it turned into a free throw competition in the final minute. First, it was USF’s Fankam Mendjiadeu hitting two, then McMahon to tie it.
With 16 seconds remaining, the game was tied after Thierry knocked the ball out of bounds. USF had the final possession, but couldn’t make anything of it, putting Ohio State into their first overtime game of the season, ending regulation knotted at 75-75.
It took 2:27 into overtime, but Mikesell hit her first points in the run of play in the period. It came on a jumper in the paint, following hitting a free throw. What continued to hurt Ohio State though was putting players on the free throw line.
USF made nine free throws with a minute left into the final period. Ohio State went down six, but they didn’t stop.
McMahon hit a three to cut it to five, Mikesell waited till the final 20 seconds of the game to hit her first shot from deep and a turnover by USF and a layup by Thierry put Ohio State up 88-86 to win a game it never looked like they’d win.
Madison Greene’s Tough Injury
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, a story from the game is the injury of Greene. The guard spent all of the 21/22 season on the bench after needing knee surgery, missing the Big Ten season featuring a co-championship in the regular season.
Greene’s filled in for guard Jacy Sheldon, who’s suffering from a lower leg injury. Sheldon’s status of week-to-week — coupled with the unknown of Greene’s recent injury — puts the Buckeyes in a hole for the foreseeable future.
What’s most important is that Greene can return from this injury like she did entering this season, providing leadership and consistent play on the court.
Tough First Half Shooting
Hurting the Buckeyes, especially badly on Tuesday was shooting. Ohio State hit 31.3% in the first half, compared to 60% for the Bulls.
Part of that tough Buckeyes performance was Mikesell who went 0-for-6 in the first half, three of those from beyond the arc. It wasn’t all her though, with guard Madison Greene shooting 1-for-6 and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková going 1-for-4.
It ultimately didn’t matter, with Mikesell hitting the one that counted.
A by-product of that was Ohio State registering just one assist in the first 20 minutes after leading the Big Ten averaging 19.9 per game.
With the Buckeye win, they move on to face the No. 16 Oregon Ducks. For some on the team, it’s the preferred match-up because of Mikesell. The guard played a season with the Ducks before transferring to Ohio State before the 2021-22 season.