Coming into Monday’s game against Rutgers, the Buckeyes saw themselves sitting at fifth place in the Big Ten standings. With seven games left this season, Ohio State is searching for a top four finish in the conference, which would earn them a bye directly into the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. It wasn’t easy, but Ohio State sweat it out against Rutgers for a 61-57 victory on Monday night, propelling the Buckeyes into a three-way tie for third place in the conference standings.
The Buckeyes’ victory was a tale of two halves. Ohio State started like they usual do, coming out with speed and offense. Guard Taylor Mikesell started off hot from deep, hitting 3-of-4 attempts beyond the arc as Ohio State took a six-point lead into the second quarter. Mikesell ended the evening leading all Buckeyes with 26 points, and added an additional three assists and three rebounds as well as a pair of steals.
Then, signs of rust started to show. After not playing for a week following their 92-88 victory over the then-No. 21 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, Ohio State let Rutgers back into the game.
What allowed the shift was the Buckeye’s speed, which is usually an asset to Ohio State. The Buckeyes like to take quick shots and make opponents run. This usually leaves someone like Mikesell or guard Jacy Sheldon open. Instead, Rutgers made sure the Buckeyes dynamic guards were covered, and used that speed against Ohio State. That pressure, alongside clogging the paint, forced Ohio State to take poor shots from poor positions. The Buckeyes scored just 10 points in the second quarter, and Rutgers carried that momentum into a seven point lead at the half — a 13-point swing in one quarter.
Coming out of the locker room after the break, the Buckeyes changed things up by slowing things down. Instead of the full court press that gives opponents fits, Ohio State opted for a half-court defense, giving them time to catch their breath.
Stepping up big in the third quarter was senior guard Braxtin Miller. In the span of a two minutes, Miller had a steal and a block, forced a turnover and drew a charge. On top of stellar defense was an offensive push. Miller had five of her 12 total points in the third, playing above her usual 6.9 points per game average.
It wasn’t only Miller pushing the Buckeyes defensively. Ohio State’s team defense made it look like Rutgers wouldn’t score again in the quarter. It took the visitors almost seven minutes to register their first points of the second half, but momentum shifted quickly. Leading that charge was Rutgers guard Victoria Morris. Out of only 10 third quarter points for the Scarlet Knights, Morris contributed six, including the final two at the third quarter buzzer to give her team some life.
At half court, Sheldon faced a Rutgers double team. After taking an elbow to the back that sent the Ohio State guard to the floor, which the official in front of her did not call a foul, Morris ran down the court and hit the jumper as time expired. Even with the Buckeyes swinging a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead, Rutgers showed that they weren’t going to give up easily.
Morris had an opportunity to tie it at 59 with just five seconds to go, but missed her attempt from three. On the rebound, Rutgers forward Tyia Singleton was fouled by Mikesell. After hitting the first free throw, she intentionally missed the second so Rutgers had a chance to rebound and tie the game with 3.7 seconds left. However, the Buckeyes got the ball, and Sheldon hit the final two free throws to seal a 61-57 win for the home team.
Rutgers came into Columbus riding a nine-game losing streak, but they aren’t a team that looked like they’ve lost 10 straight. Known as a group that plays a defensive-minded style, Rutgers took Ohio State to the final seconds of the game in what was a classic Big Ten battle.
Miller’s Dub Chain Performance
It wasn’t just a stat line that earned Miller the Buckeyes’ Dub Chain performance of the game. Miller’s senior leadership started off the court, coming into the second half down seven.
“We needed every single minute she played and every single stop she had,” said Mikesell of Miller’s performance. “It really started with her leadership at the start of the third quarter. She came and was like, ‘you know, we have to turn this around.’”
Miller’s third quarter gave Ohio State a 13-point swing to make up for a difficult night for the Buckeyes shooting the ball. Ohio State usually shoots 48% from the floor, but hit shots at only a 32% clip against a stout Rutgers defense.
“I thought [Miller] was the key for us tonight,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “Playing really hard and making plays on the defensive end, but keeping players focused in the second half.”
Sheldon Contributing Outside of Shots
A name that usually pops off the Buckeyes’ scoresheet game-in and game-out is Jacy Sheldon. Coming in to Monday’s win, Sheldon averaged 20.9 points per game. At first glance, Sheldon’s nine-point night might turn some heads, but she was active as ever.
In 35 minutes on the court, Sheldon turned from a scoring guard to a distributing point guard. Sheldon had eight rebounds and five assists, eclipsing her season averages of 3.6 rebounds and 3.75 assists per game leading into Monday.
“She’s going to be the leader of the game whether she’s scoring or not,” said Mikesell of Sheldon. “How she controls the tempo of the game and finds open teammates even if they don’t hit the shot, she’s making the right play.”
A Pair of Rutgers Homecomings
During the pregame introductions, a player receiving some of the loudest applause wasn’t a Buckeye, but Chillicothe, Ohio native Osh Brown and Cincinnati native Victoria Morris. Brown and Morris, who had a vocal cheering section all night, pushed the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter. Even with Ohio State extending the lead to six with three minutes left, Brown and Morris kept the Buckeyes lead from getting out of hand.
After the game, a group of over 30 family members celebrated Morris’ return to Ohio, taking pictures and celebrating their family’s accomplishments on the court. Morris scored 14 points in 22 minutes — well above her 3.6 points per game average on the year.
Ohio State doesn’t have much time to enjoy this victory. On Thursday, the Buckeyes welcome Nebraska to the Schottenstein Center. The Cornhuskers started the 2021-22 season with 12-straight wins. They’ve come down to earth a bit, winning five and losing five since the open of Big Ten conference play. Thursday’s game tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET.