The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is often a lazy week, for recovering from a food coma and going into the new year with lofty aspirations of self improvement. Not for Ohio State women’s basketball. A day after getting a verbal commitment from No. 3 recruit, guard Jaloni Cambridge, the Buckeyes were in Ann Arbor, Michigan in a matchup against the Michigan Wolverines.
In front of 8,000 fans, the Wolverines fed off the atmosphere and came away with the upset victory. Head coach Kim Barnes Arico’s side came away with the 69-60 victory.
Michigan held a “Blue Out” for the lunchtime game, with all fans receiving a blue shirt to try and aesthetically psych out the Buckeyes. The lone group not following the rules was a committed group of Ohio State fans who filled a section of the arena.
The home fans had a lot to cheer for to start the game. Ohio State guard Celeste Taylor grabbed a steal and layup to put the Buckeyes up on the first basket of the game, but from there it was all Michigan.
Barnes Arico’s side played sound defense, not allowing any movement inside the perimeter. That forced Ohio State to shoot from deep. The first four three-point attempts by the Buckeyes missed, with forward Cotie McMahon taking a couple and guards Taylor Thierry and Taylor following up with attempts of their own.
McMahon also picked up two charging fouls within the first five minutes, sending the sophomore to the bench.
On the other side though, Michigan wasn’t hitting shots at a much better rate, but enough to pull ahead to an early 7-2 lead. Guard Jordan Hobbs led the charge, with a three-point from the corner and an impressive play to the basket.
Things didn’t get much better for the Buckeyes coming out of the media timeout. Michigan continued scoring, amassing a nine-point run before Ohio State responded. That response came from Thierry.
The Cleveland, Ohio area forward went on a solo seven-point run. Thierry started it with a steal and fast break layup in the backcourt. It also featured a bonus shot as Thierry was hit on the way up to the basket. The guard/forward hybrid kept the intensity going, pushing into the paint two more times to get another layup and two free throws.
Thierry also excelled on the boards, leading Ohio State with four in the first quarter, along with a team-leading nine points. The Buckeyes needed all nine of those points too, cutting a seven-point deficit to one at the end of the first quarter, down 12-11 with three quarters to play.
Energy and intensity to go to the basket by Thierry infected her teammates to start the second quarter. Especially Guard Jacy Sheldon. The graduate senior put the Buckeyes up quickly with a drive to the lane. On the next defensive possession, a steal and fast break saw Taylor and Sheldon in a two-on-one situation. Taylor laid the pass off to Sheldon for the second of three consecutive makes to start the second quarter.
However, it wasn’t all great for Ohio State. Specifically with McMahon. The forward picked up a third foul, following her lone attempt of the quarter: A missed layup through a group of Wolverines defenders. Back on the bench, the Buckeyes had to adjust to that and more.
After playing in a zone for most of the first half, the Wolverines moved to a press, not so different from what the Buckeyes use themselves. It meant Ohio State had to adjust and Michigan took advantage of that time spent. Specifically through substitute forward Taylor Williams.
With Thierry’s strong rebounding half, grabbing six, the 6-foot-2 forward came in and made it more difficult for Thierry inside the paint. Also, got to the line using her own offensive abilities under the basket.
Williams scored five points in a 15-9 run for the Wolverines. Taylor, of the scarlet and gray, hit two three-point shots to slow the Michigan run, and stop the bleeding beyond the arc. Before Taylor’s two makes, the Buckeyes missed their first nine shot attempts from deep.
Late in the second quarter, there was a peculiar moment on the sidelines. Barnes Arico approached the referees with Ohio State on the offensive possession. The Michigan coach convinced the officiating crew to stop the game and review the last Buckeyes defensive possession. On the previous play, the Wolverines threw a pass downcourt and Taylor jumped to try and intercept. In the process of jumping, Taylor hit guard Lauren Hansen in the face.
After a short review, the play was ruled incidental contact and no foul was awarded.
Taylor’s 12 points in the first half, and a nine-point, six-rebound, performance by Thierry had Ohio State in the game, but the Wolverines had the final punches in the fight’s second quarter. The home side took a 27-26 lead into the halftime locker room.
Back on the court for the second half, it wasn’t like previous Buckeye performances where the team comes out fired up and on the offensive. Instead, it looked like Ohio State players were on five different pages.
Star Michigan guard Laila Phelia hit two early shots, and on offense the Buckeyes’ passes struggled to hit. For example, McMahon, driving to the basket, tried to get a pass intended for Sheldon. Then, a pass to Thierry made the forward have to dive to stop the ball from going out of bounds. Lastly, a pass by Taylor went to nobody, directly under the basket. It forced a timeout by Coach McGuff and the Buckeyes with seven minutes remaining in the quarter.
Through the tough play, Michigan extended its lead to nine points.
The lead wouldn’t last. Out of the timeout, improved passing put Ohio State back in the conversation. A 13-point run featuring five baskets by five different Buckeyes included the first points on the day for McMahon in the form of a midrange jumper. Also, an open Sheldon three, and a strong rebound and layup by guard Rikki Harris had Ohio State feeling good.
A 14-point swing saw the Buckeyes go from a nine-point deficit to a three-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
Right off the bat in the final quarter, Michigan tied the game courtesy of a three-point shot by guard Elissa Brett. It fired up the large crowd, an element the Buckeyes had to play through in a close final 10 minutes.
At the start of those minutes, the game was back and forth, with each team trading baskets. Coach McGuff didn’t want to give Michigan any additional momentum and when Phelia hit a spinning jumper in the paint, the coach called a timeout to try and quiet the crowd and regroup.
Down three points, McMahon reentered the game, putting Ohio State’s starting five on the court for the first time since the start of the second half.
Out of the timeout, it looked like another game-changing moment for the Wolverines, stealing the inbound pass but Phelia couldn’t hit the layup at the end. On the other end of the court, forward Rebeka Mikulášiková hit her first three attempt of the game, tying the game momentarily.
The Wolverines hit two layups and a three though, putting the game back in their favor. With a seven-point lead, the Buckeyes had 4:53 remaining to try and come up with another run.
Ohio State couldn’t find one though and the Wolverines let the clock run, waiting late in their 30 seconds before taking any attempts at basket. Late in one of those shot clocks, Thierry fouled Phelia beyond the arc, and the guard hit two of the three to increase the lead to nine points.
It was a lead that the Buckeyes couldn’t overcome. Although it was close. Ohio State scored four unanswered points, but it wasn’t enough. Michigan responded and pushed the lead back up from the foul line, giving the home team its first win over the Buckeyes since the 21-22 season, 69-60.
Although the Buckeyes shot better overall, the 5-for-23 night from beyond the arc was the team’s third worst of the season. The two worse games were losses against UCLA and USC.
Following Saturday’s game, the Buckeyes head home to celebrate the upcoming 2024 year. Ohio State gets a few days off before heading to the Chicagoland area Friday, Jan. 5. That’s when the scarlet and gray face the Northwestern Wildcats.
As of publishing, the purple of Northwestern is in the middle of a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Before its Saturday game, the Wildcats hold a 5-7 record, and 0-1 in Big Ten play after losing to the Maryland Terrapins to start the conference schedule.