Before the tip of Monday night’s second-round game of the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State Buckeyes guard Rikki Harris was waiting for the tip. Harris was rubbing her hands together and chirping at LSU’s point guard Khayla Pointer. Land-Grant Holy Land doesn’t know what Harris said, but the guard, along with the rest of the Buckeyes, played an inspired 40-minutes, beating LSU 79-64.
The first quarter started, shooting-wise, like the Buckeyes’ first-round game. Ohio State shot 4-for-13 to start the game. Fortunately for the Scarlet and Gray, their defense held LSU to 3-for-9 shooting.
The story a the start of the game was turnovers. At the first media timeout of the game, at the 3:15 mark of the first quarter, Ohio State had already forced six turnovers. The Buckeyes were up 10-8, with eight of those points coming off of takeaways.
LSU ended the first down seven, with seven turnovers not helping their cause. Guard Jacy Sheldon scored six of Ohio State’s 15 first-quarter points, most off turnovers. Also, it was the defense of freshman substitute Taylor Thierry.
Thierry’s athleticism and court awareness held LSU’s starting center Faustine Aifuwa to 0-for-3 in the paint. Also, Thierry showed more confidence offensively, going to the basket and contributing two points on two attempts inside.
Ohio State went on an 11-0 run to end the first quarter with guard Taylor Mikesell hitting her first three attempts of the evening. LSU was down 15-8 with three quarters to go.
In the second, the Tigers found their stride, but Ohio State’s shooting kept up the pace. Leading the team from deep in the first half of the second quarter, was a surprise name: Rebeka Mikulasikova. The forward for the Buckeyes was given space by the LSU defense, and Mikulasikova hurt LSU twice. The Slovakian big scored eight of the Buckeyes' 11, with five minutes to go in the half.
Mikulasikova’s hot shooting proved to be contagious. Joining her with threes coming out of the timeout were Harris and forward Braxtin Miller. The Buckeyes finally started finding their stroke from deep that had been evading them for the past three games. LSU didn’t have an answer for the shots that OSU landed.
Defensively, Ohio State didn’t force as many turnovers in the second quarter but did continue to make big plays. Forwards Miller and Thierry made blocks to keep LSU’s interior offense struggling and the Scarlet and Gray held a pair of outstanding graduate bigs in Faustine Aifuwa and Autumn Newby to a combined two points in the first half.
With 1:42 left before the break, Newby grabbed a rebound under the basket and was fouled by Buckeye Tanaya Beacham. After the play, Newby threw her elbow backward, hitting Sheldon in the face. After a review, the referees determined it was incidental and didn’t give a foul on the play.
However, the stoppage of play did end up helping the Buckeyes in a way. It halted the crowd noise and any momentum from the big rebound and foul. Ohio State held LSU to no more points in the quarter, and the Buckeyes took an eight-point lead into the half; up 34-26.
To start the second half, Harris backed up that pregame talk a little bit more; after missing a three from the top of the arc, the OSU guard ran into the lane to grab her own rebound and made the layup. That bucket put the Buckeyes up 10, shortly thereafter, Sheldon added another layup to give the Bucks an early 12-point lead.
The fast start to the half caused LSU head coach Kim Mulkey to call a timeout. During the break, Buckeyes’ head coach Kevin McGuff was seen checking out the scoreboard . His daughter is a member of the Belmont women’s team who narrowly lost to the Tennessee Volunteers on Monday night.
Throughout the first half of the third quarter, it felt like the Pete Maravich Assembly Center was prepared to go wild for any shift in momentum towards the Tigers. But with half of the quarter done, the Buckeyes had extended their lead to 19. LSU looked frustrated.
Getting the Scarlet and Gray to that lead was more great shooting by Mikulasikova. She was the first Buckeye to hit double figures. After being blocked in the paint, OSU won possession and Mikulasikova drove to the basket to get her 10th point of the night. It was Mikulasikova’s first double-digit scoring performance since Feb. 20.
Then, Mikesell did something that Ohio State fans hadn’t seen since late in the regular season. With time on the shot clock, Mikesell threw up a triple from three feet behind the arc that didn’t touch the rim as it sailed through the net. Seconds later, Mikesell added a layup to get her scoring to 13 points on the night.
Down double-digits, the Tigers started to press. At first, it worked. The Buckeyes gave up three straight turnovers. Unfortunately for LSU, however, it didn’t turn into points on the scoreboard. Instead, Ohio State broke through the press and Sheldon hit not one, but two three-pointers, putting the Buckeyes up 57-33 with 1:34 left in the third.
The Tigers cut into the deficit with back-to-back baskets, but at the end of the third, it was a 20-point lead for the Buckeyes. Ohio State had to avoid being outscored by 20 points in the final quarter in order to move into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2017.
At first, LSU had the game in their favor. Ohio State committed fouls and the Tigers had time to design plays and cut into the lead. With five minutes left in the quarter though, Louisiana couldn’t cut into it more than three points.
When the Scarlet and Gray had the ball in possession, their speed exploited the LSU press. Even with turnovers, Sheldon hit a layup, followed by a Mikesell three. The Tigers kept battling. It was the last game in the PMAC for many of the LSU starters, and they cut the game close. Ohio State held the lead until the final whistle though, winning 79-64.
Role-players with Big Roles
The criticism of the Ohio State Buckeyes, over the end of the regular season and in the B1G tournament, was the sub-par scoring output outside of Sheldon and Mikesell. Against the second-place SEC side, outside of the two standout guards, Ohio State scored a strong 38 points.
Of course, Sheldon and Mikesell also delivered. Sheldon had 23 points and eight assists. Mikesell scored 18 points, on 4-for-7 shooting from three.
Rikki Harris Backing Up the Talk
The saying goes “don’t talk the talk unless you can walk the walk.” Harris started the game talking to the Tigers at half court, and she backed it up throughout the game. In 25 minutes, Harris scored seven and rebounded on seven.
Harris’ 5-foot-10 frame had the second-highest rebound total for the Buckeyes too, something that has not been the norm during the 2021-22 season. Her night was representative of the Buckeyes’ attitude all night; never stepping down to a favored home team in LSU.
With three minutes remaining in the game, Harris ran up the court with the ball. Pointer stood in her way to draw the offensive foul, but Harris landed awkwardly against the scoring table. After receiving attention from the medical staff, Harris walked off the court and into the locker room.
With the victory, the Buckeyes take a trip west to Spokane, Wash. They will next have a Friday night matchup against the No. 2 Texas Longhorns, who won the Big 12 Tournament. No time has been set for the contest.