The Ohio State Buckeyes ended February with a bang, winning a share of the B1G regular season title. March has been a different story. With cold shooting and stiffer competition, Ohio State had an early exit from the B1G Tournament before entering the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed. Saturday, the Buckeyes returned to action in the first round of the tourney against the Missouri State Bears of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Even with a day of bad shooting, the Buckeyes defensive press, timely comebacks and big plays by Jacy Sheldon and Tanaya Beacham pulled Ohio State through. The Buckeyes beat the Bears, 63-56.
After two weeks off from competition, Saturday’s game started slow for the Buckeyes in terms of scoring, but they looked crisp on defense. It took 1:59 off the game clock before either team scored, with Ohio State senior Braxtin Miller defending two early shots from the Bears.
Offensively, it was a tough start. Guard Rikki Harris and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková missed their initial shots, but Ohio State found their first points through guard Taylor Mikesell. The running mid-range shot was the eighth time this season that Mikesell opened the scoring, which is usually a good omen. The Scarlet & Gray have won the previous seven games in which Mikesell scored first.
At the 4:08 mark of the first quarter, Harris hit the floor hard, hitting the back of her head on secondary impact. Harris got up and made one of two free throws, but the foul was indicative of the first quarter. Missouri State’s stars Abigayle Jackson and Brice Calip each committed two fouls, but Ohio State’s offense continued to struggle, and couldn’t capitalize.
Ohio State ended the first quarter down nine point after shooting just 1-for-12 in the quarter. In the second quarter, the poor shooting didn’t quite come to an end just yet. Fortunately for Ohio State, their press frustrated the Bears, and Missouri State only extended the lead by three.
Guard Jacy Sheldon and Harris brought things back within reach. Sheldon exited a screen and ran beyond the arc to take a long distance three — her first in six games. Then Sheldon distributed, finding Harris on the corner, hitting her first three on a trio of attempts.
Out of a three-pointer-induced timeout, Missouri State hit a layup, but Mikesell added a three of her own. The trio of threes got the Buckeyes back into the game, but the early poor shooting still needed work to overcome. With five minutes left in the quarter, the Buckeyes offense finally caught up with the defense.
The Bears fell to the Buckeyes’ press and started turning the ball over with regularity. Missouri State lost the ball six times in the final 2:44 of the half, and Ohio State turned those turnovers into a track meet with six fast break layups to spark a 14-2 run as they went into the halftime break up 31-26. After getting out-scored 14-5 in the first quarter, the Buckeyes out-scored the opposition 26-12 in the second quarter.
From the start of the second half, Ohio State’s press didn’t slow down. Missouri started the third quarter with possession, and lost it on a turnover — another giveaway that netted the Buckeyes two points.
The Missouri State Bears have a roster full of experience. Following the Buckeyes’ storm at the end of the second quarter, they calmed down in the third after their initial second half turnover. Defensively, the Bears starting getting stops, which shut down the chance for Ohio State to use their press.
Outside of trips to the free throw line, the Buckeyes didn't make a single shot from the floor in the first half of the third quarter. This let the Bears get back into the game. By the third quarter media timeout, Missouri State had tied the game at 35-35.
It took the Buckeyes 6:49 in the third quarter to score their first points outside of the charity stripe. Mikulášiková earned her first points of the game, and Sheldon followed closely behind. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the fouls that plagued the Bears in the first half seemed to switch sides.
Ohio State put the Bears the bonus, and sent Missouri State to the line 14 times. The Bears went on an 8-0 run in the third, but after that, the game leader changed from possession to possession. There were six lead changes in the final 3:11 of the third quarter, but the Buckeyes went into the fourth quarter on top. Mikulášiková hit a three to put Ohio State up one with 10 minutes to play.
To start the fourth, it was again cold shooting that put the Buckeyes in a hole. With seven minutes remaining, Ohio State missed three open shots from deep in the same possession — one of the rare times that the Buckeyes grabbed offensive rebounds, but to no avail. Until that possession, Missouri State led Ohio State in offensive rebounds, 19-9.
Coming out of a timeout, forward Tanaya Beacham hit a layup and one of two free throws to get the Buckeyes within one. With 4:52 remaining, Ohio State’s defense forced a shot clock violation going into a timeout, and the Buckeyes had under a half quarter of basketball to extend their already impressive 2021-22 season.
It was Sheldon who put the Scarlet & Gray back on top, and Mikesell followed. The Massillon, Ohio native hit her second three of the game at an opportune time to put Ohio State up 54-52 with two minutes remaining.
All game, bench players Beacham and Taylor Thierry had an impact. Not known this season for her offense, Thierry made it to the line late and knocked down a pair of free throws. Missouri State answered back with a layup by Sydney Wilson, keeping the game within two.
Missouri State hit their next layup, and with less than a minute remaining the Buckeyes were up by two. The Buckeyes had to burn their last timeout after Sheldon bobbled a pass and Ohio State couldn’t break out of the defensive pressure. From the timeout, Sheldon took the ball at the top of the key and charged the basket. Running past three Missouri State defenders, Sheldon hit the layup, putting Ohio State up four.
Then, a midrange miss by the Bears turned into a Buckeye basket. With the ball going out of bounds for a Missouri State ball resulting, Beacham leapt and knocked it back into Sheldon, who hit both free throws, putting the finishing touches on n a 63-56 Ohio State victory.
The Buckeyes have been a top 10 scoring team all season, but for many watching the Ohio State women’s team for the first time this season, you may have not have thought that watching the Scarlet & Gray. Ohio State hit only 7.7% of their shots in the first quarter and 25% in the second. Both droughts gave Missouri State big runs of 14-5 and 8-0 to put the Buckeyes in a hole.
Shooting was what the Buckeyes hung their hat on all season, but they haven’t yet found their form in the postseason.
Jacy Sheldon Continues Leading
After a full season of writing positive adjectives about Sheldon’s play, it’s hard to find the words to describe her importance to the Buckeyes. Sheldon led Ohio State with 25 points, six rebounds, five steals and five assists.
When Ohio State needed someone to break momentum, it was again Sheldon.
A narrow victory is still a victory. The Buckeyes continue their NCAA Tournament run after the win, and will face the winner of Louisiana State University and Jackson State University. The Buckeyes will play either team on Monday.