In an eventual 87-81 Buckeyes win, the Scarlet & Gray came back from seemingly insurmountable odds, and redefined the word insurmountable in the process.
Here are notes from the impressive victory.
Playing with Fire
The old adage goes that if you play with fire you get burned. Multiple times this season, it looked like the Scarlet & Gray were scorched. Against then-No. 5 ranked Tennessee, the Buckeyes were down 12 in the second quarter. In a trip to then-No. 16 Louisville, it was 14 in the first half. Just three weeks ago, it was at the San Diego Invitational, down 18 in the second quarter.
Even three days ago, in Minnesota against the Golden Gophers, the Buckeyes were down 10 points in the third quarter.
Sunday’s win marks the largest second half comeback in program history when Ohio State was down 17 points to Illinois with 6:56 left in the third quarter. Head coach Kevin McGuff called a timeout 10 seconds later, and said this to his team:
“‘Stay level headed. Keep playing how we know how to play and everything will work out if we do what we’re supposed to do,” forward Cotie McMahon revealed following the win. “That was really it, there was no yelling. We know what we’re supposed to do we just gotta do it.”
McMahon and the Buckeyes did that following the timeout to the tune of a 25-8 third quarter run and eventual 50-34 run by Ohio State in the second half. Winning is great, but going down double-digits consistently might not always go in the Buckeyes favor.
“We have to be a four quarter team,” said McMahon. “Not just two. I feel like we always end up, you know, being the ‘hero team’ in the second half and have to stop doing that. Soon it’s going to bite us in the butt.”
Mikesell and McMahon Come Up Big Again
Because of the play of McMahon and guard Taylor Mikesell especially, that didn’t happen. McMahon cut the Illini’s 17-point lead to 10 in under a minute of the third quarter by herself. Then Mikesell scored five in the Buckeyes’ subsequent 11-point run.
The third quarter was the only quarter where Mikesell didn’t lead Ohio State in scoring. Mikesell finished the night with 31 points on 7-for-14 three-point shooting. The shots from deep were falling for Mikesell, leading to a dub chain performance.
1️⃣7️⃣ 1️⃣7️⃣ 1️⃣7️⃣ 1️⃣7️⃣ pic.twitter.com/r3GB4TPx5a— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) January 8, 2023
McMahon was second on the team, scoring 22 points, but added four rebounds, four assists and two blocks on the night. The emotion from both was evident in the second half after the entire Buckeyes roster looked demoralized — especially compared to a rowdy Illinois team making noise on every play in the Illini’s favor, which there were a lot of examples in the first half.
The win was another step in the development of the freshman McMahon.
“Cotie played really hard, she usually does and I think as the season goes on, every game you can see just a little more understanding of what we do and how we do it,” said McGuff. “She’s practicing really hard, that’s been a big part of her growth. Her practice habits are really good.”
Illinois is the Real Deal
The Fighting Illini weren’t ranked when they faced the Buckeyes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a top team in the country. Illinois took it to Ohio State for most of the game. While the Scarlet & Gray went blow for blow with the team from Champaign in the first quarter, it was Illinois’ game to win.
New Illinois head coach Shauna Green has a team of transfers, and few returners from last year, playing with passion and intensity. In her first year, Green’s leading the Illini in their best start in program history.
Sunday’s win was Illinois’. Forward Kendall Bostic had 27 points and 15 rebounds — her third double-double in a row and a new career scoring high for the junior. Guard Genesis Bryant scored 15 points in the first half on 6-for-8 shooting, missing only one of her four shots from deep in the game.
“I thought Illinois played great, in the first half especially,” said McGuff. “They were playing harder and executing better and doing a really good job and we were not playing hard or executing, and they were making us pay.”
It’s their third loss of the season, but also their largest margin of defeat after losing by a combined seven points to the Indiana Hoosiers and University of Delaware. The starting five for Illinois features no seniors either, so the future of the Big Ten might go through Illinois.
The play that personifies the Buckeyes’ comeback is a three-point shot by Mikesell. It’s not the shot that made it important, but how the play turned into the Mikesell make.
With 7:25 left in the fourth quarter, Ohio State had a three-point lead. Substitute guard Hevynne Bristow, who had a great game off the bench with eight rebounds in under 18 minutes, went towards the basket.
In most cases, a college player with the room Bristow had would go for the layup, especially in the lead. Instead, Bristow found McMahon charging the baseline on her right. McMahon received the pass and went towards the basket too, but like Bristow she decided to pass.
Guard/forward Taylor Thierry got the pass near the basket and without hesitation passed back to Bristow who went around the arc to pass to a wide open Mikesell. The guard from Massillon, Ohio extended Ohio State’s lead to five, and it never went under four in the rest of regulation.
“That was a big point of emphasis at the half, we weren’t moving the ball in the first half, and we were one or two passes and trying to dribble dribble dribble,” said McGuff. “Second half, I thought we moved the ball around quite a bit better and really kind of spread them out, we got them spread out and just led to a lot more good shots.”
It was nothing new to the players on the court.
“We work on that every single day, driving and kick,” said Mikesell. “Find the open person being super unselfish at that point. We had started to see shots fall and we were getting a lot of different momentum swings while there was defense turning into offense.”
For the Fans
An element that doesn’t get talked about more than a blurb or two for ambiance is the crowd. Ohio State had 6,273 fans in attendance for the game. In the grand scheme of the Schottenstein Center’s attendance it isn’t much, but it was a loud and energetic crowd for youth night.
Coach McGuff felt it, and used it to the Buckeyes’ advantage giving the team an added boost in the third quarter.
“I said ‘Hey, we’re either going to fight right now and hit back or we’re going to get embarrassed,’ said McGuff to his team. “We were getting embarrassed. We have a great crowd today here and we’re playing like this its embarrassing. I feel bad for the fans who came out, at that point.”
Also in attendance was arguably the Buckeyes’ No. 1 fan — Landon McChesney. The six-year-old boy with genetic disorder TBCD was honored at halftime with his family in tow. McChesney is one of only a handful of children in the world with the rare disease, and through the LandOn a Cure foundation, they’ve teamed up with the Ohio State basketball team.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that the Buckeyes fought back shortly after he was honored at halftime, but maybe it wasn't?