On Monday night at the University of Illinois’ State Farm Arena, the No. 18 Ohio State women’s basketball team took on the Fighting Illini who came into the game in 13th place in the Big Ten; because of that disparity, the game had all of the makings of a potential slip-up for the Buckeyes. After all, Rutgers came to Columbus a week ago with a double-digit losing streak and pushed the Buckeyes for 40 minutes. OSU avoided a similar fate against the Fighting Illini on Monday night winning a lopsided contest 86-67.
In the early moments of the game, Illinois guard Aaliyah Nye took the game into her own hands. The sophomore guard, who averaged 11.7 points per game coming into Monday, scored Illinois’ first 11 points of the game. Nye alone pushed the Illini to an early five-point lead, but the Buckeyes’ pressure picked up the intensity and in turn shut Illinois down.
Ohio State guard Rikki Harris matched the momentum created by Nye. After a week where Harris scored just 16 points over two games — missing all six of her three-point attempts — she scored 11 in the first quarter all on her own. Harris went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the first, including the third at the buzzer, giving the Buckeyes a 12-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Defensively, Ohio State’s pressure frustrated Illinois. In the first half, the Buckeyes forced 13 turnovers, 10 of which were steals. Passing lanes disappeared for Illinois and being down double-digits in the first half forced the Illini to make poor decisions leading to Buckeye points. At the half, Ohio State scored 15 points off of those 10 first half steals. The Buckeyes maintained their 12-point lead at the half, up 42-30.
Any thought of a stumble against Illinois went out the window at the start of the second half. Ohio State forced six turnovers in the first three minutes of the third quarter, and extended their lead to a whopping 31. That Illinois deficit increased to 32 by the end of the quarter, and the Buckeyes cruised to a final score of 86-67.
Sheldon Leads the Way
Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon led the way on Monday. Sheldon returned to her big point-scoring totals of earlier in 2022, finishing with a team high 22 points. However, here evening consisted of more than just scoring. When the press is working for the Buckeyes, it’s almost always Sheldon leading the way. The guard added four of the Buckeyes’ 19 steals (a season high for the team) and caused fits for the Fighting Illini.
Overall, Sheldon and the Buckeyes forced 24 turnovers.
Career Night for Harris
In the second half, Harris took a three from deep in the corner. The shot came from almost behind the basket and Harris banked it off the top corner of the board into the net. Afterwards, the sophomore gave a “did that just happen?” look to the Buckeye sideline. It most certainly did, Rikki, it most certainly did.
It was that kind of night for Harris. Coming into Monday, Harris’ career high was 15 points — coincidentally also against Illinois. She bested that in Champaign as she scored 17 and added 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals.
A Quieter Mikesell
A misleading positive for Ohio State on Monday was a quieter game by shooting guard Taylor Mikesell. On the same day that the Oregon transfer was named to the B1G Honor Roll for the third time on the season, it was other players on the court shouldering the offensive load.
Mikesell took only three shots from distance on Monday after averaging four made threes per game coming in. She ended the night with a solid 13 points and 5 assists in just 28 minutes on the court in the blowout. That much needed rest should help Ohio State in their last two weeks of conference play. It’s the first time that Mikesell hasn’t played at least 30 minutes since Dec. 15.
After Nebraska’s upset victory over the Indiana Hoosiers on Monday, Ohio State’s chase for a Big Ten regular season title is still very much alive. However, their conference title hopes will meet some stiff competition very soon.
On Thursday, the Buckeyes will travel to Maryland to face the No. 13 Terrapins. Since Maryland lost to the Buckeyes in Columbus on Jan. 20, they have gone on a tear. Winners of six-straight, the Terrapins have won by an average of 17 point in their current stretch.
The Buckeyes and Terps tip at 8 p.m. ET. in a game which will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.