The Ohio State women’s basketball team overcame every challenge they’ve faced so far in the 2022-23 season, including four wins against ranked opponents and losing two starting point guards. On Sunday, a season seemingly full of tests welcomed one of the largest against an unlikely opponent — the Illinois Fighting Illini.
In a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten, Ohio State continued to show they’re up for the challenges that come their way, beating the Illini 86-81.
There was deserved hype entering Sunday’s game, with Ohio State sitting at 16-0 and Illinois starting 14-2. Both teams were in the middle of the best starts to a season in their respective program histories. In the first quarter, the game matched the hype.
Illinois got things going off the jump, with guard Genesis Bryant — the back-to-back B1G Player of the Week — hitting a three-point shot. It was Bryant’s first of 10 points she scored in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes had an answer for the Illini at every turn. Ohio State attacked the basket and got to the free throw line 10 times in the first quarter, hitting nine. In the run of play, they were hitting big shots too.
Guard Taylor Mikesell and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková made a combined three shots from deep. On the boards, guard/forward Taylor Thierry cleaned up. Thierry grabbed three in the first quarter, the best coming near the end of the quarter. After getting the defensive rebound, Thierry found Mikesell charging down the court alone for a Hail Mary pass and layup.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes’ defense, they had difficulties going up against Illinois forward Kendall Bostic. The leader in the Big Ten in rebounds per game scored eight points and had four rebounds in the first quarter. Those Bostic points came off teammates finding the forward in the paint and grabbing their misses, with two of her four rebounds coming offensively. The game was tied 22-22 at the end of one quarter, in an evenly-matched start to the game.
Bostic continued her reign of terror induced on the Ohio State defense in the second quarter. The forward continued getting the ball under the basket and making easy layups. So much so, that Buckeyes head coach Kevin McGuff called a timeout as a Bostic layup put the visitors up 32-24 with much of the second quarter left.
The rest of the game leading into halftime was the Scarlet & Gray trying to keep the deficit manageable for the final two quarters. Point guard Makira Cook didn’t give the Buckeyes much of a chance. Cook, the former Dayton Flyer, played a strong second quarter, scoring six points and breaking through the Buckeyes' defense.
Ohio State’s shooting wasn’t helping. The Buckeyes were outshot 73.3% to 40%. For every two points the home team scored, the visitors had four to five. Illinois outscored Ohio State 25-15 in the second quarter and went into halftime down 47-37.
Off the second-half inbound, Mikesell hit a three to pull the Ohio State deficit down to seven, but indicative of how the game went to that point, Bryant scored a three of her own on the next possession, with Mikesell’s hand in her face. Then it got worse for the home team.
Illinois started the third quarter outscoring Ohio State 10-3, increasing their lead to 17 points. Coach McGuff called another early-quarter time-out to collect his team and regroup for the 16 minutes of basketball remaining.
Forward Cotie McMahon wasn’t as impressed with the run. Out of the timeout, McMahon went on a seven-point run single-handedly. Illinois helped with two turnovers in consecutive offensive possessions and suddenly the game was back to a 10-point Illinois lead.
The Buckeyes had a response of all responses, outscoring the Illini 25-8 in the last 6:56 of the third quarter. Ohio State got rid of the entire 17-point deficit thanks to all five starters getting on the scoresheet in the quarter.
Outside of McMahon’s 10, Mikesell had eight with two threes. Thierry had four points and three rebounds of her own.
At the end of three, the Buckeyes tied the game at 65 apiece with 10 minutes remaining. It took Ohio State a little over four minutes to cut away the lead too.
Starting the fourth quarter off for Ohio State was guard Rikki Harris. The starting point guard hit a three to put the Buckeyes up three, their largest lead of the game to that point.
Ohio State kept rolling. Mikesell took the torch from McMahon and became the catalyst of the Buckeyes’ offense. The guard shot perfectly for the first four minutes of the quarter, scoring seven points.
Of those seven, three came from impressive team basketball. In a play where every Buckeye touched the ball, players went to the basket and found open teammates. Then repeated it three times before passing around to find an open Mikesell who drained the deep shot.
After the three, Mikesell stole the ball on the inbound and hit a layup.
It put the Buckeyes up eight with just over half the quarter to go, but Illinois fought back. The visitors brought the lead down to five after two Buckeye offensive possessions ended in misses by McMahon and Mikesell.
Even so, Ohio State held on with big play by the entire team, beating the Illini 87-81.
Cotie McMahon Battles
McMahon’s 22 points aren't her NCAA high, but Sunday was a top performance of her freshman career.
The Centerville, Ohio native was the spark that got the Buckeyes going in the third. McMahon shot 60% from the floor and hit 10-13 free throws. Also, the energy she brought propelled the Scarlet And Gray.
Taylor Mikesell Rises Up
Following the win against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Minnesota media asked Mikesell what she does to improve her shooting after having a couple less than average performances. Paraphrasing Mikesell, she said she’s not changing a thing and she’ll keep shooting.
On Sunday, that shooting was on display. Mikesell went on a 7-2 run in the fourth quarter for Ohio State. Part of a 31-point night for the Northeast Ohioan.
Ohio State doesn't play again until Saturday when they travel west to Nebraska. The Buckeyes face a Cornhuskers’ side that’s looked good, bad, and great throughout the 2022-23 season. That game tips off at 2:30 p.m. ET
After the Scarlet & Gray return to Columbus, they have a two-game streak at home. It starts against the Northwestern Wildcats on Jan. 19 before Ohio State plays a game circled on the schedule for many Big Ten fans, Jan. 23 against the No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes.