Coming into any season, certain games are circled on the schedule. In the Big Ten, games against Michigan, Maryland and Indiana grab some attention, but one team surprised the conference this year: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nebraska is a team that sat in ninth place in conference standings in 2020-21 with a record of 13-13. Starting the ‘21-22 season, the Cornhuskers won their first 13 games, and sat just one game back from the Buckeyes coming into Thursday night. Although the Cornhuskers have surprised opponents throughout the season, the Buckeyes weren’t caught off guard, defeating Nebraska, 80-70.
A big matchup coming into the game was about just that — the bigs. Ohio State Buckeyes forward/center Rebeka Mikulasikova took on freshman phenom Alexis Markowski. Starting the game, Markowski got the best of the two, scoring four points and adding three rebounds in the first 10 minutes, On the other end, Mikulasikova hit an early three, but otherwise struggled offensively, missing all other attempts.
Nebraska took advantage of those missed chances, making 55.6% of their field goals and 40% from three, taking a first quarter lead of 22-19. Then, with 1:25 remaining in the first quarter, the Buckeyes introduced their own exciting freshman, Taylor Thierry.
Before Thierry started taking control of the game, almost singlehandedly, Nebraska held their first quarter momentum to expand their lead to eight in the second quarter. The swing began with a monster block, but it wasn’t on a layup. Nebraska guard Sam Haiby received the ball in the corner on what looked like a blown defensive assignment. Thierry ran towards Haimby and leapt to block her shot immediately after release.
Thierry followed that block up with three rebounds (two on the offensive end), two assists, two steals and two points. The Cleveland native’s individual effort combined with a surging Buckeye offense — Mikulasikova especially. Making up for a difficult start to the game, the Buckeye forward scored eight points, hitting both threes she attempted plus a layup. In addition, she added three second quarter rebounds. Ohio State ended the half on a 9-0 run, putting the Buckeyes up 36-31 at halftime.
The third quarter saw the Buckeyes return to their offensive form. Leading the charge was Taylor Mikesell, recently named to the 10-player Ann Meyers-Drysdale finalist list for the best shooting guard in the nation. Mikesell went a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. Those put her at 50% from three-point range on the year, increasing her NCAA-leading shooting percentage.
In the fourth quarter, Ohio State wouldn’t let Nebraska get close. Markowski hit a layup and a free throw to get the Cornhuskers within nine points, but it’s the closest they would get to an upset. Thierry added five fourth quarter points on top of her already impressive defensive night. Her nine points tied a season high for Thierry, and her seven rebounds was one shy of her high of eight. The Buckeyes held the pressure through the final minute, winning 80-70.
Before Thursday’s victory, Ohio State’s Mikulasikova had a string of inconsistency. Ending 2021, the Buckeye center went three-straight games without scoring any points. In B1G play over the past few weeks, Mikulasikova fell into another scoring slump, scoring just 27 total points over four games. Against Nebraska, who has one of the top centers in the conference in Markowski, Mikulasikova showed up in a big way.
Against tough competition, Mikulasikova scored 15 points, nine of which came from beyond the arc, while also adding seven rebounds. Even though Mikulasikova’s night didn’t start out looking the best, a complete performance in the remaining three quarters bodes well for the Buckeyes as they fight to stay near the top of the B1G standings.
An area the Buckeyes aren’t necessarily known for this season is on the defensive end of the court. Before Thursday’s win, Ohio State was ninth in the B1G in points per game allowed (67.5). Going up against a Nebraska offense that averages 78.8 points per game was a tall task.
Ohio State responded, led by Thierry and senior guard Braxtin Miller. The two combined for four out of the Buckeyes’ six steals, leading to 19 points off Cornhusker turnovers. Even though Markowski had a double-double of 23 points and 15 assists, Ohio State neutralized the rest of Nebraska’s attack, allowing only three players to reach double figures in points.
Next up for the Buckeyes is a Valentine’s Day trip to Illinois to face the Fighting Illini. The game tips at 9:00 p.m. ET, airing live on B1G Network. Illinois sits in second-to-last place in the B1G, but have only played 19 games due to COVID-19 postponements. The last time these two teams met, on Jan. 6, the Buckeyes beat the Fighting Illini, 90-69, at the Schottenstein Center.