Heading into Sunday’s 2023-24 Big Ten premiere for Ohio State women’s basketball and Penn State, it was a guard matchup that grabbed attention. For the Buckeyes, two graduate senior guards whose energy and defensive intensity are tough to match. The Nittany Lions featured a graduate senior with all the accolades and the rising sophomore shooting star.
Sunday’s 94-84 win for the Buckeyes was filled with highlights from every one of them, and emotional moments that stretched the spectrum from uplifting to gutting.
Competitively, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions highlighted a strong group of Big Ten guards who aren’t named Caitlin Clark. Honestly, it was more diverse and exciting than even the longest three-point shot and follow-up scowl.
Guards Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor had their hands full against PSU’s Makenna Marisa and Shay Ciezki. The two combined for 47 of the Lions’ 84 points, in a night-and-day shift from the eight total points Marisa scored, combined with none for Ciezki, six days earlier in a loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Penn State ran through the guards, and they were the source for a 13-point third quarter lead. Marisa and Ciezki went 5-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first half, part of a 7-for-9 deep shooting start to the game for the visitors, compared to 2-for-12 shooting from the Buckeyes.
“They really can score the ball, they’re great players so you got to really be on point defensively, individually and as a team and when we weren’t they made us pay,” said head coach Kevin McGuff.
Ohio State got beat because of how Ciezki was used on offense. The shooting guard wasn’t part of Penn State’s buildup on most offensive drives. Instead, the 5-foot-7 guard shot up the court to get into shooting position. If the ball couldn’t get to Ciezki initially, it seemed to find its way eventually.
The Buckeyes’ transition defense was exploited. Marisa, running the Nittany Lions’ offense, pushed through the Ohio State press and moved the ball quickly to Ciezki, when the scarlet and gray were still getting back on defense. If that wasn’t open, and Marisa was given the smallest space to breathe, the graduate senior was throwing up a shot or finding a teammate in the paint. She also led Penn State with 28 points and was second in rebounds with eight.
It was a different story on the Ohio State side of offense. Turnovers and poor shooting plagued the Buckeyes through most of the game. However, Sheldon kept the deficit smaller with her own ability to get out in transition. Sheldon led all Buckeyes with 15 points, with the rest of the team combining for 25 in the first half. Passes continually found Sheldon either at or heading to the basket.
In the second half, the Buckeyes began their push, including heightening their defensive game. In the press and half court schemes, Marisa and Ciezki’s success faded. Marisa’s 7-for-9 performance in the first half was cut to a 40% shooting performance in the second. Taylor was a difference maker.
“She’s a winner, man. She’s going to do whatever it takes to win,” said Sheldon about Taylor. “The stuff she does, probably doesn’t even get talked about enough, but she’s really good.”
Taylor continued to be everywhere Ohio State needed her on Sunday. In her 14-point, 11-rebound double-double performance, Taylor added three assists in the second half plus one gigantic make from deep — a shot that should have put the Buckeyes win away, if not for a late turnover that gave the Nittany Lions the opportunity to tie.
“An absolutely huge three,” said McGuff. “She’s a very good offensive player and I think it’s starting to come out a little bit. I thought she had some really big defensive plays tonight against really good Penn State guards.”
As much as the starters deserved the attention, the play stretched to the bench too. Penn State guard Taylor Valladay had eight points, but they came in the most important moments. With 25 seconds remaining, Valladay received a pass in the corner. After faking the three attempt, the Virginia transfer charged down the baseline and scored an impressive layup through traffic with 11 seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.
The highlight of the Buckeyes’ bench was the return of guard Madison Greene, following two seasons where knee injuries kept her out of all but 12 games. Greene played under four minutes, taking one shot, but it was the first step in a long road back. Her return received an ovation from the crowd and her team, knowing all Greene’s struggles following two knee surgeries.
Back on the court, in overtime, Penn State was dealt the toughest of blows. With 1:51 remaining, Marisa went down hard on defense, requiring the training and medical staff to walk her off the court. Following the game, Marisa was seen on a stretcher leaving the medical room. While nothing is official yet, it didn’t look good for the two-time First Team All-B1G selection. The injury happening right in front of the Buckeyes’ bench.
“She’s such a great player and seems like a great kid and a real competitor,” said McGuff. “So I hate to see her get hurt like that and I’m hoping it’s nothing long term.”
Should the injury prove to be better than it appeared in the arena and post-game, Ohio State and Penn State have one more game remaining on Feb. 22, 2024.
Between now and then, there will be plenty of battles between the Buckeyes graduate senior duo and the likes of Iowa’s Clark, a trio of dynamic guards against the Indiana Hoosiers and a hot start to the year for sophomore Mara Braun and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Sunday was only the beginning for Big Ten play, but the performances will be difficult to beat.
“I think when you compete at the level we do and go against the players at such an elite level that we do, it’s exciting. It’s something you look forward to. You don’t really shy away from it,” said Sheldon. “They had a lot of really good guards, but being able to go against them and compete at that high of a level is encouraging.”