There are big games and there are season-defining games. Monday night had all the makings of the latter when the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes came to Columbus, Ohio to face the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes.
For all the excitement leading up to the game, Ohio State couldn’t capitalize in front of their home crowd, losing to the Hawkeyes 83-72.
Before the sold-out crowd could be unleashed, both teams had to adjust to varying levels. For the Buckeyes, it was another game without guard Jacy Sheldon, still out with a foot injury. It was no surprise for Ohio State who has been without the guard since Nov. 30 in a trip to the Louisville Cardinals.
Iowa was down senior forward McKenna Warnock. After starting all 19 games with the same starting five, Warnock missed the game due to a rib cage injury sustained Wednesday in the Hawkeyes' 84-81 overtime win over the Michigan State Spartans.
The game got underway with the Scarlet & Gray winning the tip and getting going on offense first.
Ohio State scored the first two baskets of the game, starting with an energy play by forward Cotie McMahon. The freshman attacked the basket and missed her first layup but stuck with the play and kept the possession with the Buckeyes for their first points of the game.
The Buckeyes extended that lead to four points, but the Hawkeyes hit two early threes to keep the game within one possession. Then Iowa center Monika Czinano hit the ground running.
With the Scarlet and Gray putting McMahon and guard/forward Taylor Thierry on Iowa superstar guard Caitlin Clark, it left Czinano in single coverage and Clark has a knack for finding an open teammate.
Clark had five assists and Czinano led the Hawkeyes with 10 points in the first quarter. Even so, the Buckeyes stayed with the Hawkeyes.
Coach McGuff’s side did it by stretching the floor, shooting from deep and inside the paint, and keeping the visiting defense guessing. Forwards Mikulášiková and McMahon led the way for Ohio State with eight and seven points, but it was a three by guard Taylor Mikesell that got the crowd on their feet.
After Clark missed a shot on Iowa’s final offensive possession of the quarter, Mikesell held the ball for the final shot, nailing a three at the buzzer, putting Ohio State up 24-23.
Into the second quarter, the Buckeyes extended their small lead right away with an athletic layup by McMahon, but then Iowa went on a run, fueled by the likely Player of the Year finalist Clark.
Following a quiet shooting quarter by Clark, the Iowan heated up. Iowa went on an 11-point run, capped off by a three by Clark that was a solid seven feet back from the three-point line. Clark had seven of the 11 points in the run.
Iowa stretched the lead to nine, but Thierry and McMahon did what they could offensively to cut into the lead. Ohio State’s underclassmen starters scored all the points in the second quarter for the Scarlet & Gray, mainly through athleticism near the basket. Spinning and leaping over the visiting Hawkeyes.
Ohio State did a better job with one-on-one defending on Clark, holding her to no points for the rest of the first half, but Clark isn’t stopped. She just shifts to another part of her game.
The guard grabbed four more assists in the second quarter, pushing her stat line in the first quarter to 12 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. To end the half, it was Czinano again. With the pressure on Clark, Czinano received a pass over the head of Mikulášiková and sunk a layup at the buzzer to push the lead back up to nine, leading 43-34 with one half to go.
Coming out for the second half, the Scarlet & Gray came into the game with more intensity but it was matched by Iowa. McMahon and Thierry continued to be the only Buckeyes to score a basket, with no one else scoring since the last shot of the first quarter.
Halfway through the quarter, the Buckeyes matched their second-quarter points total with 10, with six coming from the free throw line. The Hawkeyes however kept their momentum from the first half intact.
Clark scored seven points to start the half and Iowa went ahead 12 points, requiring another needed comeback for Ohio State. However, this time came against a veteran team, unlike some of the Buckeyes’ other deficit-cutting wins.
Then, almost like clockwork, the lead was trimmed away by Ohio State.
The Buckeyes held Iowa to no points for the final 5:11 of the quarter and went on a 10-point run. It started with forward Eboni Walker who entered the game as a defensive substitute for Mikulášiková and stayed in for important second-half minutes.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, it also came with a problem: Thierry picking up fouls. McGuff kept the sophomore in the game after earning her third early in the second half, but after hitting a contested layup, Thierry picked up her fourth on the subsequent defensive press, requiring a trip to the bench.
In her place was guard Emma Shumate who made her presence known on defense. The transfer from Newark, Ohio had a big block and one free throw, plus playing part in the strong defensive run that ended the third quarter for the Buckeyes.
To start the fourth, Ohio State was down just two points, cutting their 12-point deficit down to a single possession in the third quarter. Iowa guard Molly Davis, who started for Warnock, hit a three to start the quarter, and it began another stretch for Iowa.
Within the first two and a half minutes of the final quarter, the Hawkeyes outscored the Buckeyes 8-3, including another deep three by Clark and a layup in the paint by freshman substitute forward Hannah Stuelke, assisted by Clark.
Ohio State would need to come out of the timeout that followed with the same energy that they had in the second half of the third quarter if they wanted a chance to cut away at their seven-point deficit.
Harris got it going with a three, but Clark answered back with a midrange make of her own. It seemed that the Hawkeyes had an answer for what the Buckeyes threw at them. Iowa brought Czinano back in with four fouls, the center who Ohio State had no answer for in the game, and the Hawkeyes pushed their lead up to eight with four minutes remaining.
Ohio State continued to fight, but couldn’t stop the Hawkeyes' potent offense, losing 83-72.
There’s one thing for certain, the loss won’t be blamed on Thierry and McMahon. The two underclassmen scored 20 and 21 points respectively, each within reach of a double-double. The usual scoring suspects and less than 15% shooting from three and under 40% overall did them in.
Mikesell Doesn’t hit 2,000
Entering the game. an individual record was in Mikesell’s sights. The Northeast Ohio native needed 14 points to hit 2,000 in her NCAA career. After hitting five in the first quarter, Mikesell went cold, going 1-for-6 in the second and third quarters.
A normal game for the guard makes the game more manageable for the Buckeyes, but the Hawkeyes didn’t give Mikesell much space to shoot or breathe in the game. The guard ended the game with 12 points.
Honoring Kelsey Mitchell
After the first quarter, Ohio State shared a tribute video before having former All-American guard Kelsey Mitchell receive a sellout ovation from the crowd. It was the first time the now WNBA guard for the Indiana Fever came back to the Schottenstein Center.
Her visit was not only to be honored but to help bridge the gap between NCAA and WNBA fandom, encouraging Buckeye fans to share that same excitement for the game at the professional women’s level.
The road doesn’t get much easier for the Buckeyes with the Hawkeyes heading back to Iowa. On Thursday, the Scarlet and Gray play their second-straight game against a top-10 opponent. This time, it’s a trip to Bloomington, Indiana for a matchup against the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers.
After Thursday, conference play continues back in Columbus, with the Purdue Boilermakers coming to Ohio on Sunday for a 1 p.m. ET tip.