Motivation is a tricky thing. For NCAA athletes, it isn’t too tough to come by, especially at a school like Ohio State, who’s athletic’s department rivals any other school in the country.
Coaches push motivation, rivalries amplify it and players find it on their own. For the Ohio State women’s basketball team, freshman forward Cotie McMahon is using it in a way that’s helped put the Buckeyes in position for their best season in team history.
For a program that dates back to the mid-1960s (1899 if you look back to student-organized teams), no team has done what the current Buckeyes are doing right now. The Scarlet & Gray are 17-0, ranked third in the nation and, frankly, it doesn’t make sense.
Without their two starting point guards, the Buckeyes were in a tough place. Jacy Sheldon’s foot injury has left her off the court since Nov. 30, and Madison Greene’s season-ending knee injury on Dec. 20 forced a wedge in the roster. Enter McMahon.
“With Madison (Greene) being out and Jacy (Sheldon), I just felt like T.Mike (Taylor Mikesell) can’t do it all by herself,” said McMahon. “She’s a huge part of our scoring aspects, so I felt like it’d be the perfect opportunity for me to gain confidence and kind of step in and do what I’m capable of doing.”
This motivation to step into the second scorer role didn’t come from a coach’s order. It came from McMahon.
Since the start of December, McMahon has averaged 16.3 points per game, including a 30-point game against the USF Bulls where Ohio State desperately needed offense, coming back from an 18-point first-half deficit to win in overtime, off a McMahon assist in the final 15 seconds of the game.
Sunday, when Ohio State was down 17 points to the Illinois Fighting Illini, McMahon went on a solo seven-point run to cut the lead down to 10 points. It took less than a minute of the clock draining off the scoreboard. Behind those performances is a unique trait for a freshman.
“Her effort and intensity is kind of rare for somebody that young,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “It usually takes people a while to kind of build those habits but that’s been a big part of her progress is how hard she plays and how hard she practices.”
McMahon represents the type of team that McGuff is building. Its not one that features top-10 ranked high school stars, although McMahon was in ESPN’s top-25 for the 2022 graduating class. The team features players who play fast but also fit the family-like environment McGuff and his coaches are trying to build.
The forward is playing hard and exudes a personality that fits the unique chemistry of the Ohio State Buckeyes. McMahon speaks her mind and sticks up for her teammates. Take for instance the trip to San Diego, potentially playing the Oregon Ducks, the former team of Mikesell, in the second game.
Instead of the cleaned up athlete response, McMahon went with the truth, saying they wanted Oregon and that they wanted it for Mikesell. Ohio State ended up beating then No. 16 Oregon 84-67, with Mikesell scoring 25 points. Now, McMahon’s impact is alongside Mikesell’s. An impact with scoring, intensity and the ability to turn the game on a dime.
“The team expects that out of me,” said McMahon. “So I just gotta do it.”
Ohio State needs the play of McMahon to continue, especially with Sheldon still out, but there might be a silver lining through the injury.
The Buckeyes are winning and McMahon is improving while Sheldon is away, which can reap benefits as tournament time approaches. If McMahon’s maturation as an NCAA player continues at its current rate and Sheldon returns to play like she did before her injury, It makes an already dangerous Buckeyes team downright scary.