Friday was a day of firsts for this Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team. The Big Ten Tournament was their first neutral-site game of the season, as OSU didn’t take part in any invitationals throughout the 2021-22 season. In addition, it was also the first postseason basketball for the Buckeyes since the 2020 B1G Women’s Basketball Tournament where Ohio State lost in the tournament final.
The Scarlet and Gray faced a familiar foe on Friday. Just five days after beating the Michigan State Spartans to get one step closer to their eventual B1G Co-Championship, the Buckeyes had to beat Michigan State for the third time this season to keep their outstanding conference season going.
Ohio State had a game that looked like a run away, but ended up being a tight contest until the end of the fourth quarter. The Scarlet and Gray move on to the semifinals, Beating Michigan State 74-58.
Right off the bat, it was the Buckeyes’ defense that took charge. With Ohio State’s shooting slipping as the regular season came to an end, it was their defense that kept them competing for the title. It took Michigan State until the 6:45 mark of the first quarter to score their first points.
Ohio State didn’t allow many open shot attempts for Sparty, and guard Jacy Sheldon had two blocks as OSU excelled on the boards as well. Usually an area of the court where Ohio State struggles, they outrebounded Michigan State 10 to 6 in the first quarter.
On the other hand, an area where the Buckeyes definitely don’t struggle — forcing turnovers through their defensive press— led to nine first-quarter turnovers and a 22-8 lead heading into the second.
In the second quarter, the Spartans found some shooting after scoring only eight points in the first period. Freshman DeeDee Hagemann led the Spartans with six, off two three-pointers. The final 10 shots of the quarter were back and forth between the two sides fighting for a spot in the semifinals.
Keeping the Buckeye’s first half lead in-tact was the return to form for guard Taylor Mikesell. After going 6-for-25 in the final three games of the season, Mikesell went 3-for-4 in the second quarter, leading the Buckeyes with 11 points in the stanza. She also provided the marquee defensive moment of the quarter.
Mikesell saw Sheldon being beaten to the basket by Spartans’ forward Alisia Smith. On Smith’s spin to the basket, Mikesell met the 6-foot-3 forward under the basket, grabbing the ball and sending it downcourt to Sheldon for a layup.
Even with a 50% shooting quarter from Michigan State, the Buckeyes increased their lead going into halftime, up 44-29.
Starting the second half, Michigan State found their stride. Senior guard Nia Clouden, a first-team All-B1G honoree, had only two points in the entire first half. To start the second, however, Clouden came out motivated, scoring four as the Spartans went on a seven-point run.
Ohio State didn’t help their cause offensively. After forward Rebeka Mikulasikova hit a layup at the start of the third, the Buckeyes missed five straight from the floor and two from the free-throw line.
What kept the Buckeyes lead to double digits, in the third, was the play of their bench. Graduate senior forward Tanaya Beacham duplicated her performance against the Spartans to end the season. Beacham led the Buckeyes with seven in the third and added three rebounds.
She scored the final seven points for the Buckeyes, making smart moves to find open looks and get to the free-throw line three times. In a quarter in which Ohio State starters contributed a combined six points, Beacham’s output was vital. Despite the forward’s performance, the Spartans outscore Ohio State 19-13 in the quarter.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Ohio State’s lead had shrunk to nine; far removed from their 20-point lead in the second quarter.
Shooting-wise, the cold performance followed the Buckeyes into the fourth quarter and Michigan State capitalized. Leading into the final period, the Spartans hurt themselves, going 2-for-8 from the free-throw line. In the fourth, Michigan State started going 3-for-4.
Clouden presented no danger from the floor, scoring zero points in the first six minutes of the fourth, but she was backed up by guard Matilda Ekh. Ekh’s 21 points on the day featured seven in the fourth. Hagemann joined Ekh, hitting a free throw and a fastbreak layup that put the Spartans within six.
Head coach Kevin McGuff took an important timeout and it shook the Buckeyes back into place. With 2:52 left in the fourth, Mikesell hit her first points of the half on a layup. Guard Rikki Harris followed it up with a huge three from the corner, putting Ohio State lead back to 11.
Ohio State ended the game on a 10-point run, winning 74-58.
Rikki Harris Masked Hero
The difference in the first half that gave the Buckeyes a sizeable early lead was the offensive stroke of Harris. Wearing a mask, which Harris dons from time to time, the Buckeye found her shot early.
Ohio State had three, six-point runs in the first quarter — one of the runs was Harris on her own, hitting a three and layup, with a third point on a free throw. When Harris hits early shots, confidence follows.
As the Buckeyes worked on holding onto their lead, Harris’ defense held strong. In the fourth quarter, Harris grabbed an important steal that slowed down a Michigan team that pulled within eight. Then, it was her last-minute three that sealed the victory for Ohio State.
Jacy Sheldon’s Clutch Gene
Leading Ohio State on offense was Sheldon. The starting point guard scored 19 and hit all nine of her free throws. It was a performance that’s honestly lower than her season average, but the importance of Sheldon’s game isn’t always that she hits shot, but when she’s hitting shots.
Sheldon broke up two runs from Michigan State. In the third, Sparty went on a seven-point run, putting the Buckeyes lead under 10 points for the first time since the 2:55 mark in the first quarter. It was Sheldon who stopped the run before Beacham went on her seven-point end of the quarter tear.
In the fourth, Sheldon started the scoring off with a layup, plus free throw as she was fouled on the play. Then, Michigan State went on another run. While it was only four points, it was Sheldon that stopped their momentum, and kept the Buckeyes lead manageable.
Anyone that’s watched Ohio State this season shouldn’t be shocked at Sheldon’s timing. It’s a reason the Buckeyes won the title, and are two wins away from a tournament championship.
With the victory, Ohio State moves into the semifinals of the B1G Tournament. Up next is either the Maryland Terrapins or the Indiana Hoosiers. In the 21/22 season, two of the Buckeyes' five losses came against Maryland and Indiana.
Defense has led the Buckeyes in the last two weeks and will need to continue to compete with two teams that were in the running for the B1G conference title.