The Ohio State women’s basketball team ended the 2022 calendar like the 2022/23 season began — beating a ranked team. This time around it was the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines, a team themselves who’ve amassed an impressive season in the first two months of the campaign. Even so, the Scarlet & Gray picked up their fourth win against a ranked team in a 66-57 defeat of their rivals.
Here’s what set Ohio State apart.
The Tougher Team
After the game, head coach Kevin McGuff was clear with his team.
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness with our press, continuing to press and I think it kinda wore on them a little bit,” said McGuff.
At the start of the fourth quarter though, with Ohio State’s 16-point third-quarter lead shrunk down to only nine points, it looked like Michigan was on its way to a road win. The Wolverines went on a seven-point run and sat only two points down.
With Ohio State’s lead cut to one possession, enter guard Hevynne Bristow. Receiving more minutes due to two injuries at point guard, Bristow received a pass near the top of the key, and Euro-stepped her away through the lane, hitting the layup.
Then, on the Michigan inbound, who was it creating a turnover for Ohio State? Bristow, of course. The New York City native won the possession, with help from teammates to create the bad Michigan pass, and found guard Taylor Mikesell near the basket for an eventual foul and two made free throws.
Within 20 seconds, Bristow helped turn a two-point lead into six points and Ohio State took it from there. The Buckeyes went on an eight-point run, capped off with forward Rebeka Mikulášiková’s only points of the night — a three to put the home team back up double-digits.
Bristow had eight points, four rebounds, and three steals on the day. They came at pivotal moments in the Buckeyes' win and earned her a second dub chain of the season.
For anyone who’s new to the Buckeyes women’s basketball team, the Wolverines out-rebounding the Buckeyes 45-33 is alarming. For anyone who’s watched this team over the past two seasons, it’s another example of sacrificing rebounds for wins.
The way Ohio State does it is through its pressing defense. For the 14th time in 15 games, the Scarlet and Gray grabbed over 20 rebounds. Saturday it was 27, causing fits for the Michigan Wolverines. Only two of the Buckeyes’ eight players who saw minutes didn’t grab a steal, with three grabbing three steals apiece.
Ohio State made a well-disciplined Michigan side turn the ball over five times in the fourth quarter. While they didn’t always turn into points for the Buckeyes, it was part of another goal of the Scarlet and Gray’s press.
“I didn’t know how many times we’d turn them over but I knew that could be a big part of our strategy,” said McGuff. “Even if it wasn’t turning them over, kind of wear on them with our pressure and our full court style.”
It had its intended effect. Wolverines guard Leigha Brown, a leader on offense and defense, committed eight turnovers and scored eight points on the day after averaging 15.3 entering Saturday. The only other game this season where Brown scored less than 10 points in a start was Michigan’s other loss, in a 71-68 defeat to the Toledo Rockets of the MAC.
Season Low in Scoring
Before Saturday, Ohio State averaged 88.8 points per game. Seeing the 66-point game is a shock initially, but it points back to how gritty of a game it was at the Covelli Center.
It was Big Ten basketball featuring two of the best in the conference. Michigan also entered the game-holding teams to the lowest points per game in the Big Ten with 57.2. After the game, guards Rikki Harris and Hevynne Bristow were asked if Michigan has the best defense they’ve faced this season.
“No, I feel like we’ve played good defenses against all teams at different points in different games, so not really,” said Harris. “Their defense wasn’t bad, it was good.”
Clearly not overly impressed by the Maize and Blue, but Harris has a point. Look at the first quarter for the Buckeyes, where they scored a game low nine points compared to the other three quarters.
It wasn’t necessarily because of a stout Michigan half-court defense. A lot of the errors were self-inflicted. The Buckeyes began the game missing their first five shots — and some of those from open looks.
“They’ll force you into some tough shots early and we were doing that too much,” said McGuff. “So, I think once we got past the first quarter, our ball movement and execution got way better and we generated a lot better shots.”
Once Ohio State moved the ball more before taking their chances, the scoring improved greatly. The Buckeyes scored 57 points after the first quarter, showing that the Wolverines' defense could be broken down.
“I don’t think it was the toughest defense either,” said Bristow. “I just think they executed well but we executed better. Good defense, better offense.”
Next Buckeye Up
With the obvious weakness of being down two starting point guards, it still hasn’t turned into a Buckeyes loss. After Harris stepped into the point guard position with less than 24 hours till a game against a ranked Oregon Ducks side, Ohio State’s continued their unbeaten run to match their program record.
In that run was of course Saturday’s rivalry win. Bristow’s night was great, and Harris followed suit. The Indiana-raised guard scored 14 points, and added three rebounds and three assists. It was Harris’ best scoring night of the season, and Ohio State needed it.
Harris came out of halftime and got the Buckeyes going early, hitting a layup and subsequent shot from the foul line. In the fourth, Harris led the Buckeyes with five points — all from the free throw line — as she continued to attack the paint.
Then, going in for another layup, Harris drew multiple defenders so she had the awareness to dish back to forward Rebeka Mikulášiková for an open three. It was the shot that took. the air out of the Wolverines' comeback.
The guard wasn't alone either. Substitute guard Emma Shumate played more minutes in big moments and created a highlight reel three at the halftime buzzer.
E❌❌a Shu❌ate at the buzzer! pic.twitter.com/d616I7x5yg— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) December 31, 2022
What made the shot even more impressive is that it came after Shumate had a difficult time scoring, missing three layups in a row under the rim. It showed that the Newark, Ohio guard wasn’t phased by the early difficulties and instead showed why Coach McGuff got her to transfer to Ohio State.
Fellow substitute Bristow isn’t surprised by any of these performances.
“It just shows to prove what a good team we are because we’re down two starters and everybody next up is ready still,” said Bristow. “So, one through 15, we’ll be ready.”
After the game, Harris was coy in saying that it was “just a win”. It looked and felt like anything but “just a win” on the court.
Throughout the game, the emotional reactions to bigger baskets were more than in a usual Buckeyes victory. Forward Cotie McMahon and Mikesell each showed on their faces that it was a game that was more important than others.
In the fourth quarter, after fouling out herself, McMahon jumped to her feet and waved goodbye to Michigan’s Brown after she joined McMahon on the stat sheet in earning five fouls.
Also, Wolverine players were dishing their fair share of trash talk from the bench throughout the 40 minutes. It all adds to a rivalry that, until recent history, Ohio State’s dominated.
With Ohio State’s win, they move to 58-16 against the Maize & Blue. The win also ended a three-game winning streak for Michigan, tied for their longest win streak in the series that dates back to 1978.
The back-and-forth results are good for the rivalry, and the conference overall.
“It’s a great rivalry because we’ve both got great programs, that’s probably the way it should be,” said McGuff. “I think it makes it a lot more exciting when both programs are good and right now both programs are operating at a high level and I think it will continue to be a very tense rivalry.”
There’s not a long wait for the two programs to create another chapter in the rivalry. Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan on Feb. 20. After Saturday’s win, Michigan has a good chunk of new motivation to add to their locker room board.