The No. 17 Ohio State Buckeyes had a lot to play for going into the final Sunday of the Big Ten regular season against the Michigan State Spartans. While they already secured a top four position, which comes with a double-bye straight into the quarterfinals of the B1G Tournament, there was still tournament seeding to work out. A win would move the Buckeyes into the No. 2 seed.
In addition, an Ohio State win and a Michigan Wolverines loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday would earn the Buckeyes a share of the regular season B1G title with the Hawkeyes as well as the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State did their best in getting to that title, beating the Michigan State Spartans 61-55.
Coming into Sunday, one area of concern of late was the three-point shooting of Taylor Mikesell. After Mikesell earned a spot atop all of the NCAA in percentage from beyond the arc, Mikesell had gone on a cold streak in the Buckeyes’ last two games. In them, Mikesell hit just 4-of-18 from deep, which was a far cry from the 49.71% Mikesell shot up until Feb. 14 when she was named to the B1G’s weekly honor roll.
Against Michigan State, Mikesell returned to form in the first quarter. Mikesell hit her first two from three-point land, and went 2-for-4 overall in the first half. Ohio State as a team shot 52.9% and caused six turnovers, putting the Buckeyes up seven going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter though, the Spartans adjusted and the Buckeyes struggled, going 3-for-14 from the floor, scoring only 10 points. Leading the way going into halftime was star Spartan guard Nia Clouden and freshman DeeDee Hagemann.
Clouden, the 2020-21 First-Team All-Big Ten guard, didn’t hit a shot from the floor, but caused attention from the Ohio State defense. Her four second quarter points all came from the free throw line. Hagemann hit a big three on the fast break to cut the Buckeyes lead to one.
Buckeyes Tanaya Beacham and Kateri Poole scored four points to end the quarter, the only points in the last five minutes of the half, giving the Buckeyes a 32-29 lead going into the break.
The beginning of the second half started rough for both sides. It was a physical contest where two early possessions to open the third quarter ended with multiple players grappling for the ball on the court. When the Buckeyes had their chances, they missed them early on, not scoring until there was six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Struggling from the floor was forward Rebeka Mikulasikova. Twice the big got into positions to score in the paint but missed layups. Halfway through the third quarter, Mikulasikova had two points off 1-for-5 shooting.
Clouden’s trips to the line didn’t end in the third quarter, and after scoring only seven points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter, the Spartans took the lead. It was Michigan State’s first lead since the opening frame, when Clouden hit a layup to score the first points of the game.
Now trailing by a pair, the Buckeyes charged back. Guard Jacy Sheldon started things off with a run into the paint, scoring the layup and heading to the line. Sheldon missed the free throw, but the Buckeyes traded the one point for three. Former starting point guard Kateri Poole hit a three before the sound of the buzzer, keeping Ohio State on top with one quarter remaining.
The final quarter saw the Buckeyes still struggling to find their shooting stroke. Poole made her first three of the quarter, and Mikesell added a free throw, which put Ohio State up seven, but it wasn’t enough to put the game out of reach.
After those four Buckeye points, Michigan State’s Clouden scored four of her own. Of the next eight points in the game, the Spartans scored six. Then Michigan State took the lead. Guard Braxtin Miller sent Clouden back to the line, and Ohio State once again trailed with 3:30 left in the game.
Ohio State found some energy in the form of graduate forward Beacham. The sixth woman on the Buckeye’s roster put the visitors back in the lead with a layup in the paint, flanked by two Spartans defenders, who fouled Beacham.
Beacham missed the free throw, but the energy spread. Mikesell hit a tear drop layup from outside the paint, and defense from freshman Taylor Thierry caused two straight Michigan State misses. The second had the Spartans looking for a whistle that never came, as Thierry stood her ground and stopped a charging Michigan State layup.
Mikesell and the Buckeyes kept moving as the Spartans stood back, with Sheldon scoring on a fast break to put Ohio State back up by five.
An area of concern for Ohio State all season has been offensive rebounds. Michigan State out-rebounded the Buckeyes 24 to 10 on the offensive glass, and the biggest came after the six point Ohio State run. Spartan Taiyier Parks leapt above Beacham to grab Michigan State’s 22nd offensive rebound of the game, and put themselves back to within two with a bucket.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they made a big offensive rebound of their own. Thierry is heralded by McGuff and her teammates as the most athletic person on the court. She showed it by rebounding a missed Sheldon free throw, which was followed by a foul on the freshman with under a minute to go as she got back to the line.
Thierry ended the game with 11 rebounds, six steals and seven points. While it wasn’t the prettiest Buckeyes victory, Thierry’s late heroics and a couple flashes by bench players gave Ohio State a win that feels like icing on the cake of the B1G regular season, ending with a 22-5 record and a 14-4 mark in conference.
Kateri Poole’s Impact
Ohio State’s sophomore guard was head coach Kevin McGuff’s starter with the season ending injury to standout Madison Greene. On Jan. 9, Poole suffered an injury in the Buckeyes win against Northwestern, and even when she returned on on Jan. 27, she came in off the bench.
In five games since her return, Poole scored seven points combined. Against Michigan State, part of the reason the Buckeyes returned to Columbus with a victory was because Poole’s impact off the bench. The point guard scored 8 points, including two threes — one in the third and the second in the fourth — that woke up a tired looking Buckeyes offense.
If that impact can continue to grow, Poole provides a spark off the bench, or could even find herself back in the starting position.
Michigan State is by no means a side that can be slept on, but Ohio State’s shooting is getting cold at a tough time of the year. The Buckeyes are winning games, which is ultimately what counts, but tournament play is different. Each team is playing for their chance to extend their season.
Also, if the Buckeyes move further into the tournament, they could face sides like the Indiana Hoosiers, Maryland Terrapins and Michigan Wolverines — all teams that the Buckeyes lost to in the conference season.
Now that the B1G regular season is over, it’s time for tournament basketball. It’s something that most on the Buckeyes’ team and staff won’t take for granted. For the first time since 2020, Ohio State is eligible to compete in postseason basketball after missing a year with self-imposed sanctions due to recruiting violations.
Ohio State’s win means they hold the No. 2 seed going into Thursday’s quarterfinal round, pending the finish between Michigan and Iowa.