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Buckeyes guard Braxtin Miller leads a motivated Ohio State into March Madness

How the Ohio State women’s basketball team is a side well-suited to compete in March Madness, even if it’s been years since they’ve danced.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Feb. 24, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Penn State Nittany Lions handily, 78-55, in their last home game of the 2021-22 season. Less than three minutes of game time in, forward Braxtin Miller came out of the game and left the court. The fifth-year senior, who had two previous surgeries on her shooting wrist, re-aggravated the injury.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Less than three minutes later, Miller was back on the court sporting a wrist band. Miller would go on to fall on the same wrist three more times, standing up in visible pain after each tumble. She ditched the wristband, and Miller, the defensive leader of the Scarlet & Gray, was part of a defensive performance that held First Team All-B1G guard Makenna Marisa to a season-low 10 points.

“I feel like I’m going to do that through any injury, if I’m permitted to,” said Miller about returning to the court. “I didn’t even feel like it was an option or a decision. It was just ‘get it figured out and get back out there.’”

On Saturday, Miller and the No. 6 seeded Buckeyes return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. They face the winners of First Four play-in game competitors Florida State and Missouri State.

It’s been a few years since Ohio State’s danced on the biggest stage. Only three players on the current roster have postseason experience past conference tournaments. Fortunately for the Buckeyes though, the physical and mental toughness needed to compete in March, exhibited by Miller against Penn State, runs throughout the roster.

Ohio State’s built that toughness and mental edge a few ways. The first is not having the chance to compete at this level. Whether it’s the COVID-19 induced cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament or self-imposed playoff ban of last season, the Buckeyes have ample motivation to extend their 2021-22 campaign.

Miller started her collegiate career with a different OSU, Oklahoma State, where she was a freshman starter. Oklahoma State made it into the second round of the 2018 tournament in Miller’s first season. In two games, Miller scored 19 combined points. Although Miller played well, she was grateful for the experience, and understandably nervous.

After all, coming into a Big 12 program with a long history, as a freshman, included the pressure of expected high performance. Before joining the Buckeyes in 2019, Miller was a unanimous selection to the 2018 All-Big 12 Freshman Team and two All-Big 12 honorable mentions. Now, in 2022, after five seasons in Division I basketball, Miller is still nervous, but there’s a shift.

“I just feel like so ready to go out there and give it my all and be able to lead my teammates,” said Miller. “It’s a different type of gratitude and a different feeling. Feeling like younger and so nervous and scared to now feeling so ready and determined.”

It’s that determination that’s fueled the Buckeyes all season. Miller is in a small sorority of Buckeyes with experience this late into a season, but that doesn’t mean she’s had to calm her teammates down or give them a pep talk in the days leading up to the tournament’s first round.

“I feel like they don’t need to be told anything,” said Miller. “It’s a totally different situation from me then to them now. A lot of them it is their first time but they’re juniors and sophomores and they’re so ready.”

It’s because of those past seasons of getting close but not having an outlet to extend that competition. No one needs to prepare this Buckeyes team, and they have sources of motivation by the handfuls. Outside of missing years of competition at the NCAA Tournament, there’s another big motivator.

If you told the college basketball world that Ohio State was going to win the conference championship in 2022, nobody outside of the Buckeyes’ program would have believed it. Coaches and media were kind to the Scarlet & Gray, ranking them as the fifth-best team in the conference in preseason polling. Also, nobody on the roster was given preseason recognition on the Preseason All-B1G Team.

Then, only three days after Ohio State beat Penn State, they lifted the regular season conference trophy. On March 1, two days after they were crowned co-champions, three Buckeyes were recognized on conference teams. Miller received an All-B1G Honorable Mention, while teammates Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell were named to the All-B1G First Team.

Even though Ohio State had their B1G Tournament cut short, losing in the semifinal to the Indiana Hoosiers, confidence is not an issue within the locker room. Also, players on the team don’t forget the trials they’ve overcome, or who didn’t believe in them on the way there.

“I think a lot of people gave up on us, for sure,” said fellow senior Tanaya Beacham. “To prove them wrong and come back. A lot had no hope in us this season. To prove them wrong feels good. I’m all here for making the doubters feel salty.”

Now Miller, Beacham and the Buckeyes are looking to season more plates. They get their first chance on Saturday, at 2:30 p.m. ET.