Sunday, the Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey for their first Big Ten conference game of the season. What began as a Buckeyes rout stalled, becoming a close game that the final scoreline doesn’t necessarily support. Here’s what to take away from the 82-70 Buckeyes win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
No Jacy Sheldon
Following the Thursday game at No. 18 Louisville Cardinals, starting point guard Jacy Sheldon, who played 38 minutes, scoring a season-high 22 points, said she felt great.
The guard played great on the court against Louisville, but Sunday she was out again. Again listed as day-to-day, no Sheldon was evident on the court. How long will the injury stay day-to-day? Will Sheldon return for the Buckeyes' next Big Ten game, Sunday against the Michigan State Spartans?
Michigan State, on paper, gives Ohio State more of a challenge than Rutgers. Since Sheldon’s injury surfaced, the games she’s missed have been against teams that shouldn’t challenge the Scarlet & Gray, with Sunday’s closer win being the nerviest result of the three.
Rebeka Mikulášiková and Taylor Mikesell Save the Day
Scoring 74% of all Buckeye points on Sunday was forward Rebeka Mikulášiková and guard Taylor Mikesell.
From the tip, Mikesell was dangerous, but into the second half, Mikulášiková began hitting layup after layup in the paint and surpassed the guard in points in the fourth quarter. With Rutgers surging near the end of the second quarter and moving into the third, the Ohio State duo scored all 18 third-quarter points to keep the Buckeyes lead.
“We played good pick and roll together,” said Mikulášiková. “And find open options for either of us.”
The two complimented one another, each hitting a three in the third. Outside of their lone shots from beyond the arc, Mikesell hit floating layups outside of the paint and Mikulášiková used moves under the basket to find space and hit impressive layup after impressive layup.
It wasn’t a situation where one was pushing the other or trying to one-up each other, but a situation where it was all Ohio State had, offensively.
Of Ohio State’s 39 second-half points, 31 were from either Mikulášiková or Mikesell. The rest of the Buckeyes shot 3-for-11 from the floor.
Diagnosing the Issue
So what was the problem on Sunday? The game started in Ohio State’s favor, going up 14 in the first quarter and allowing only eight points for the home side in the first 10 minutes. Rutgers began the game slowly, hoping to limit the number of Buckeye possessions, and Ohio State battled through it, sped up the tempo of the game, and broke away.
“Great start overall but not a great performance overall,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “We have to get a lot better than today.”
Coach McGuff cites a lack of effort throughout the entire 40 minutes as a symptom of Sunday’s performance. Without Sheldon, Ohio State’s press wasn’t nearly as effective, forcing 21 turnovers for Rutgers.
That sounds like a pretty good day for most teams, but the Scarlet Knights came into Sunday averaging 20.9 turnovers a game. The defensive full-court press was effective in small sprints, but not close to games like Tennessee or Louisville.
In terms of shooting, Rutgers' defensive zone allowed for Ohio State to send passes into the low block early. As that adjusted, only Mikulášiková had success getting up shots near the basket. The rest of Ohio State’s shooting was forced, settling for bad looks or attempts into traffic.
“Coming in on the road, you can’t walk into an arena, or a place like this, and play the way we did and win most nights,” said Mikesell. “And we know that. We’re going to get better and practice and be ready for the next game.”
Guards Limit Mistakes
A positive is in Ohio State’s turnovers. The Buckeyes had only 10 and in that total, zero came from guards Mikesell and Madison Greene.
Greene, who played all 40 minutes for the first time since returning from injury, didn’t have an active shooting night. She took six attempts, hitting half. However, Greene added seven assists and three steals, along with not giving up the ball once.
Those six points were impressive though.
If sloppiness hit the guard duo, the Buckeyes 8-0 record might be 7-1.
Big Ten Begins
Ohio State starts its 18-game conference season with a victory, albeit one with a lot of lessons to learn.
Even so, a game against Rutgers, even a side that’s rebuilding, is what happens in conference play. Teams up their game, especially Sunday on a day when they honored legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer, and that energy is going to line Big Ten games leading all the way through the end of the season.
Outside of Tennessee and Louisville, Ohio State’s had a genuinely easy walk through the season, to this point. Sunday’s closer win, still double-digits but tied for their lowest point margin of the season, could help push this team to a level fitting of their No. 4 AP poll ranking.