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Column: Ohio State women’s basketball’s return to Earth is a good thing

How the Buckeyes recent adversity represents reality, and might be the best thing to happen this season.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

This season, the Ohio State women’s basketball team has been breaking program records. Whether it’s steals in a game or best start in the University’s women’s basketball history books, if there’s a metric to calculate, the Buckeyes have either broken it or gotten close.

After three straight losses though, an unbelievable season looks much more believable, and its not only not a surprise but its also one of the best things to happen this season. Well, it could be one of the best things. Only the Scarlet & Gray are in control of what happens next.

All season, to the Buckeyes’ credit, Ohio State’s responded to wins and losses the same way. Outside of excitement on the court following big wins like the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers, once the locker room talk is over its all business.

As the number on their AP Poll placement got lower and lower, the response remained the same to the media.

“We just play,” said guard Rikki Harris, after the Buckeyes moved up to No. 3 in December. “If we don’t win, we can’t be No. 3, so we just focus on playing and winning games.”

On the surface, it looked true. Just check out their results. A 19-point win over the then No. 18 Louisville Cardinals who allowed Ohio State to move up to No. 3. Throwing close to 100 on multiple smaller conference opponents. Beating heated rivals the Michigan Wolverines on New Year’s Eve. The Buckeyes amassed a 19-0 record, but that doesn’t mean Ohio State was focused for 40 minutes of all 19 games.

Throughout the year, all the highlight wins, except a big win against the Oregon Ducks, featured comebacks for the Buckeyes. Land-Grant Holy Land ranked the best five, and those were only the double-digit comebacks.

Starting the season, Ohio State stuck with the Volunteers, ultimately down nine in the first half. Then, a huge third quarter propelled the Buckeyes to a win. Exactly the opposite of what happened Thursday in Bloomington when the Indiana Hoosiers held the Buckeyes to six points in the third quarter.

Against Louisville the Buckeyes were down 14 points and needed a huge second half comeback, and would wind up playing up to their then-No. 4 ranked expectations.

In conference play, the Wolverines held Ohio State to nine points in the first quarter, and almost hit the Buckeyes with a comeback of their own in the second half. Against the Illinois Fightling Illini it was a 17-point comeback in the third quarter.

By this point, you probably get it: It wasn’t a road paved in gold for the now-No. 10 ranked Buckeyes, dropping eight spots on Monday, but there’s one last example.

It might seem like small potatoes, but look at a home game on Dec. 8 versus the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. The Buckeyes won 92-36, but at halftime Ohio State was up 39-29. To paraphrase a line from a fellow member of the media, the Scarlet & Gray were on the hunt but playing with their food.

So even though coach and players say the right thing, it might not be the truth. That’s not accusing anyone of lying, but it’s human nature to subconsciously go into a game with more focus and preparation against the Iowa Hawkeyes than the North Alabama Lions.

Through every scare, Ohio State battled through. The only difference between the first 19 games and the last three are the Scarlet & Gray looking like the side in deficits but without the magic at the end to comeback.

Last season, the Buckeyes struggled defensively against the Iowa Hawkeyes but scored 92 points to come away with the win. On Jan. 23, Ohio State scored 72 points. A hard total to beat the Hawkeyes by when guard Caitlin Clark is hitting a triple-double.

In two games against the Hoosiers, Ohio State lost by 20 points in the regular season and by eight in the Big Ten Tournament semi final against a recovering forward Mackenzie Holmes.

Thursday, Ohio State brought their best fight to the Hoosiers in two years, minus a difficult third quarter. A 10-minute span where adjustments weren’t made quick enough on the court and maybe the Monday loss crept in on the mindset of the Buckeyes.

Sunday, the play of coach McGuff’s side looked like they were mentally fatigued, and on the wrong day against a surging Purdue Boilermakers — which is the actually the good news.

“We still have a lot of league play left and you don’t want to be playing your best basketball right now so it’s good to take a little bit of adversity,” said guard Taylor Mikesell.

If this were March, the Buckeyes’ season would be over after the loss to Iowa. Instead it’s January and there are seven regular season games remaining. That means nine games For Ohio State to get starting guard Jacy Sheldon back into the lineup. Despite one of their best players not playing since Nov. 30, the Scarlet & Gray kept winning.

With Sheldon’s return, and potentially many of those nine games remaining, Ohio State can get into a rhythm with a healthy starting lineup that mirrors the group that started the season opener against Tennessee.

Also, hope for a regular season conference title is still alive with teams above them still playing big games ahead. Indiana plays Purdue and Iowa twice to end their season, plus a game against the Michigan Wolverines. Iowa has two games against Maryland on top of that pair of games against the Hoosiers.

Plus, coach McGuff’s side has the chance to beat Indiana in the home edition of their two regular season games of the year. Beat them and a pair of games against the Maryland Terrapins and the Buckeyes are still in the Big Ten trophy conversation at the end of the regular season.

Overall, Ohio State is a team deserving to be in the top-10. On their best night, they can compete with just about every team in the country. They’re still working towards their best, even if their ranking is no longer No. 2.

The climb towards the Buckeyes’ peak is underway, and it all starts Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I told them that’s going to ultimately be what this week will show us in terms of our leadership,” said coach McGuff on Sunday. “How we practice and whether we win or lose on Wednesday, how we show up and compete.”