Monday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes return to NCAA Tournament play with a second-round matchup against the LSU Tigers. To get there, the Buckeyes had to overcome a nine-point deficit at the end of the first quarter. Thanks to 26 points in the second quarter, off six turnovers in the final three minutes of the first half, the Buckeyes went up at halftime, eventually holding off an experienced Missouri State Bears side.
Now, the Buckeyes have a different battle to face. At 8:00 p.m. ET, the Scarlet & Gray take on head coach Kim Mulkey’s LSU Tigers, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Here are three storylines to watch for in the B1G vs. SEC matchup.
Silencing the PMAC
The Tigers play at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and for the uninitiated – it’s loud. How loud is it? Head coach Kevin McGuff had the Buckeyes practice with pumped-in stadium noise during Sunday’s practice, the first time McGuff’s done it all season.
“Being there yesterday, and the crowd really rallied behind the team late in the fourth quarter when they needed it,” said McGuff after scouting the Tigers Saturday night. “It got very loud. We played in some loud environments this year, but it’s been a little while.”
Opponent crowd-wise, the Buckeyes had one game this season that comes close to the LSU crowd. On Jan. 31, Ohio State beat Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City, Iowa. The Buckeyes won that game against a team who’d end up being their B1G co-champions. The PMAC is different.
Saturday night’s LSU game featured a big lead over Jackson State turn into a big deficit. In the fourth quarter, the PMAC helped build confidence in the Tiger team, and seemed to will Mulkey’s team into a victory.
Ohio State’s disruption game could be the thing that turns the LSU advantage into a disadvantage. If McGuff’s press gets working, and gets combined with a raucous home arena, it can help force turnovers in Ohio State’s favor. LSU is a team that feeds off energy, look no further than their head coach, and with that energy sometimes comes high emotions. The Buckeyes can exploit that excitement.
A Point Guard Battle
The pair of Baton Rouge’s Saturday NCAA first-round games featured two point guards taking over the game. For Ohio State, it was junior Jacy Sheldon. Against the Bears, Sheldon scored 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, five assists, and five steals. Sheldon even added a block in the game, showing why she was unanimously named to the All-B1G First Team and selected B1G All-Defense Team.
LSU has a dynamic point guard of their own. Graduate senior Khayla Pointer had a day of her own, Saturday. Pointer, who’s also an All-SEC First Team honoree in 2022, scored 26, had nine rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. The two play a game that’s eerily similar. While Pointer is going to shoot more than Sheldon, her penetration into the paint, like Sheldon, wreaks havoc on defenses.
“I think Khayla Pointer can get by anybody,” said Mulkey during Sunday’s media availability. “When you’re a talented basketball player, it’s almost impossible to stop one-on-one dribble penetration.”
A battle between Sheldon and Pointer is what March Madness is all about. Sheldon forces turnovers anywhere on the court and is crucial in the Buckeyes press. Watch for the two to go at it for all game, since each will likely play all 40 minutes.
Overcoming Shooting Troubles
At this point of the year, defense is tough no matter who the opponent. After Saturday’s 33.9% shooting performance, Sheldon chalked up the start of the game, where the Buckeyes shot 1-for-12 in the first quarter. Ohio State averages 46% and 37.7% from deep throughout the 2021/22 season.
If they can find that stroke again, especially early in the game, it’s a gamechanger. There were signs of positives in that department on Saturday. Outside of Sheldon’s big game, guard Taylor Mikesell hit 50% of her four shots from three. Also, guard Rikki Harris and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková overcame early missed shots to make key threes later in the game.
On the scoresheet, their four and six points respectively don’t grab attention, but earlier in the season an early miss or two would’ve made later impact difficult to find. The role players on the Buckeyes lineup are still Division I talent. Talent that’s more than capable of adding big moments to a game.
Also, maybe having huge shooting games isn’t the only way for the Buckeyes to achieve their goals.
“At this time of year, you’re going to have to win in different ways,” said McGuff after Saturday’s win against Missouri State. “Today was more of our defense down the stretch that gave us a chance to win.”