The Ohio State women’s basketball team continues their record-breaking season on Thursday. Against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Buckeyes won 83-71 thanks to key performances from multiple members of the Scarlet & Gray. However, it was anything but comfortable for head coach Kevin McGuff’s side.
Here are some takeaways from the Buckeyes’ 16th win in 16 games.
Ohio State Outperformed
Ultimately, all the matters is the final outcome. Ohio State won and stays atop of the early Big Ten conference standings, and has 13 games remaining in their regular season schedule.
The Buckeyes’ win was like other victories this season. Ohio State goes down, they go down some more and then make a second half push, leaving their opponents in the dust. Entering Thursday, the Scarlet & Gray was the clear favorite against a Minnesota Golden Gophers team starting four freshman and a sophomore.
Appearances aren't always what they seem.
“I thought they played harder, competed better than we did, certainly in the first half,” said coach McGuff.
Ohio State led by five points at the end of the first quarter, but went into halftime down 43-39. Minnesota took the lead through forcing turnovers and getting the ball into the paint. Those turnovers allowed the Gophers to shoot nine more shots than the Buckeyes, and Ohio State couldn't get their press going because of misses and losing the ball.
In the paint, Minnesota out-scored coach McGuff’s side 28-16. It got so bad in the second quarter that the Buckeyes’ coach called a timeout to regroup and bring in forward Eboni Walker to start slowing down the Gophers.
It worked, to an extent, but the home team didn’t relent. Playing the No. 3 team in the country didn’t phase the Gophers. If anything, it energized them.
Guard Rikki Harris and the Buckeyes did better defensively, even if the offensive side of the ball still struggled. The Scarlet & Gray held Minnesota to one three, and their lowest point total of the game for a quarter, up until that point. There’s one area that the Ohio State point guard identified that particularly helped.
“We have to trust each other on the defensive end,” said Harris. “Once we started trusting each other, we played better defensively and then defensive turned into offense.
The final quarter saw that offense shine through. With Minnesota tired from running 30 minutes, the Buckeyes scored the first 14 points of the final quarter, five of which came from the free throw line.
“We finally got the competitive character part right in the second half,” said McGuff. “We buckled down, got a little better defensively, we got some rebounds and I think we were way better running in transition and moving the ball side-to-side to generate quality shots going down the stretch.”
Harris Putting in Work
All the starters for Ohio State were important in the game in different ways. For Harris, she continued her consistent play on the court since jumping into the role with the season-ending injury to Madison Greene on Dec. 20. Harris raised her game though scoring on Thursday.
Harris scored a career-high 19 points. How she scored the points was also on a different level. Harris shot 53.8% from the field, her best in the current stretch of four starts. She also improved at the free throw line, hitting all four of her shots at the charity stripe.
What doesn’t jump out on her stats — but was key in a close game — was turnovers. Harris only gave the ball away once, showing the experience of an upperclassman. Her night won not only the game, but the dub chain.
Taylor Mikesell’s Growing Role
Leading Ohio State in scoring is no surprise, with Taylor Mikesell scoring 22 points. It’s what the guard is known for, but this season continues to show her strengths elsewhere on the court.
For the third time since the Buckeyes went down two starting point guards, Mikesell registered at least a five in three different categories on the scoresheet. Thursday it was seven rebounds and seven assists on top of those 22 points.
Mikesell was doing it all Thursday, and she made her teammates better with fellow splash sister Jacy Sheldon still out with a lower leg injury.
After the game, Mikesell was asked about one area that’s down for her this season — shooting. Especially against the Michigan Wolverines, where Mikesell shot 25% from the floor. Mikesell’s field goal, three-point and free throw percentages are all down this season, slightly. The question was about what she needed to improve, and her answer was classic Mikesell.
“Nothing, just keep shooting,” said Mikesell. “At the end of the day its going to go in, so you just gotta keep shooting.”
Thierry and McMahon the Foundation
For all the great guard play over the 40 minutes of the game, it was the play of forward/guard Taylor Thierry and forward Cotie McMahon that calmed the ship for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes entered the game down in rebounding margin to their opponents, which is no shock, but against the Gophers their 19 combined rebounds put the Buckeyes up 45-40 in the rebounding department.
It didn’t come up more than in the second half. Thierry had eight in the second half alone, split half-and-half defensively and offensively, even though her seven points scored was below her season average.
McMahon had a tough first half, giving up bad turnovers where it seemed like her timing was off from her teammates. The last 20 minutes of the game, McMahon made those early transgressions in the game disappear. McMahon scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in the last two quarters, and led the Buckeyes in +/- on the day.
Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková also came up big, hitting five threes for 15 points on the night. To read more about the Slovakian’s performance, check out the game recap.
This year has been Ohio State adding new lines to the program record book. Sheldon’s 11 steals in a game were an individual mark, and up until Thursday the team tied for their best start of the season since they became an official NCAA program in 1965.
Against the Golden Gophers, the win is the Buckeyes’ 16th in a row to start the year, now all alone in the University’s women’s basketball history. After the game, McGuff was asked if it broke the record.
“I don’t know,” said McGuff. “I’m not good at that stuff.”
An Almost Loss
People say that losing creates valuable lessons, but Ohio State doesn’t have any of them to look upon and learn. Thursday was really only the second time Ohio State was in a position to lose a game late. The other coming against the USF Bulls in the San Diego Invitational.
While neither turned into a loss, the USF game, which needed overtime and a swing in the final minute of that overtime to pull out a victory, was a catalyst for improved play on the other side of the result.
There’s a lot to take from Thursday’s game, like finding better shots, playing better defense in the paint and trusting each other defensively. If there’s a time to take a step in those departments, its now with the 14-2 Illinois Fighting Illini and an away trip to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the horizon.