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Ohio State women travel to Maryland in a battle at the top of the Big Ten

The Buckeyes look to repeat a January performance against the surging Terps.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Thursday, the No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes (19-4, 11-3) will travel to College Park, Mary. to face the No. 13 Maryland Terrapins (19-6, 11-3). It pits two of the four teams currently sitting atop the Big Ten standings against one another, with only two weeks before the B1G Women’s Basketball Tournament starts in Indianapolis. Here’s what you need to know going into Thursday’s battle.

The current logjam at the top of the conference standings is a combination of strong play by Ohio State and Maryland and late-season slip-ups by the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines.

Coming into Thursday, Maryland has won their last seven games, with the Buckeyes winning four in a row. Nebraska is the only other team in the conference with a current winning streak (2).

Ohio State is on their best stretch of conference season, winning nine of their last 10. Only a home loss to Michigan has tarnished their record in 2022. On the other side, Maryland’s seven wins have come with an impressive average margin of victory of 16.4 points per game; all against unranked opponents except Monday’s 81-69 victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Ohio State Victory Over Maryland

Maryland’s last loss came at the hands of Kevin McGuff’s Buckeyes. On Jan. 20, Ohio State took the lead with 6:28 remaining in the first and never lost it. in what was surely their most consistent performance of the season.

Leading the way in that game were guards Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon. Mikesell missed only two of her 13 shots, and was a perfect 5-for-5 from deep. Alongside Mikesell’s 33-point night was a double-double by Sheldon, with 24 points and 10 assists in only her third game starting at point guard. Sheldon, who normally plays shooting guard, took the place of an injured Kateri Poole and has done so even since Poole’s return.

Only one other Buckeye reached double figures in that victory, center/forward Rebeka Mikulasikova contributed 10 points and five rebounds. Since that Maryland victory though, different players have been stepping up for the Scarlet and Gray.

In Ohio State’s win against Rutgers, senior guard Braxtin Miller scored 12, after averaging 6.7 points per game leading up to the contest. Against Nebraska, Mikulasikova was joined by freshman Taylor Thierry to combine for 24 points and 14 rebounds. Monday, it was sophomore guard Rikki Harris who reached a career high 17 points in the big win against Illinois.

If the Buckeyes want to beat Maryland for the second time this season — and third time in a row dating back to last season — it’ll need to be a team performance.

“Taylor and Jacy are garnering so much attention,” said McGuff following Ohio State’s 86-67 victory over the Fighting Illini, on Monday. “It’s great to see other people step up because they’re capable. When that happens, it just gives us more space and puts more pressure on the defense to have to guard us in different ways.”

Defending Maryland

After a win over an Illini team that’s only 6-14 to the incredibly tough Terps will be a unique challenge for OSU. Leading the way for Maryland is Angel Reese. The outstanding sophomore forward averages 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Against Ohio State, in January, Reese exceeded her averages with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Reese is one of many in a Maryland lineup that can hurt an opponent.

“Maryland has a great team. Incredibly talented. They’re playing really well right now,” said McGuff after the Illinois victory. “We know that’s a very difficult place to play, but hopefully we take a little confidence away from this one that we’re playing on a high level.”

Ohio State’s confidence — and success — aren’t necessarily connected to stopping the best player on the opposing team. For example, the Buckeyes gave up a big game to Nebraska’s Alexis Markowski, on Feb. 10. The Nebraska center scored 23 and rebounded 15, however, the Buckeyes held senior guard Sam Haiby, who averages 10.4 points per game, to just two in 21 minutes on the court.

Against Ohio State the first time around, Reese had a standout performance, but the Buckeyes held role players like guard Shyanne Shellers and forward Mimi Collins to just seven combined points. In 2021-22, the two have averaged 16.2 combined points per game.

Throughout the season, the Buckeyes’ press has frustrated teams. In that signature win against the Terps, Ohio State’s energy and movement forced 24 Maryland fouls and 18 turnovers.

If Ohio State wants a repeat of their January performance, they’ll need to continue to throw the Terps off of their game. Will it be through another big performance from the duo of Sheldon and Mikesell, or will another player assert herself in the Buckeyes’ fight for the B1G title?

Either way, Ohio State will have to put on another complete performance if they want to end Maryland’s winning streak.

Wrapping Up the Season

After Maryland, the Buckeyes and Terps have vastly different roads to end the season. Ohio State welcomes Wisconsin (7-17, 4-10) on Sunday, Feb. 20 for Senior Day, and then on Thursday, Feb. 24, the Buckeyes play a rescheduled game against Penn State (9-15, 3-11) before heading to East Lansing, to play the Michigan State Spartans (13-11, 7-6) on Sunday, Feb. 27.

For Maryland, they travel to No. 9 Michigan (20-4, 11-3) and end the season at home against Indiana (18-4, 10-2). Each of the Terp’s last three games have big implications in the B1G standings, but it all starts with Ohio State.

Thursday’s matchup tips off at 8:00 p.m. ET on BTN.