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Ohio State women’s basketball a different team from first game of the season

After starting the campaign with a tough defeat, the Buckeyes’ focus on key parts of its game yields results

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last season, the Ohio State women’s basketball team made a reputation for its ability to come back from deficits. Big deficits. The Buckeyes scaled 14, 17, and even 24-point mountains. Mountains might not be fair though; it was more like climbing out of self-dug holes. At the start of the 23-24 season, Ohio State almost did it again.

Down 18 points to the USC Trojans at halftime, the scarlet and gray ended the third quarter with a two-point lead. Except the script was a little different than the 22-23 season. The Buckeyes lost in a fourth quarter where USC looked like the dominant side behind 32 points and six rebounds from Juju Watkins, who might not be competing for only Freshman of the Year but maybe even Player of the Year.

Coming back from deficits is great for the onlooker but teams and coaches would rather have Sunday’s Buckeyes game against the Tennessee Volunteers.

The game was entertaining, highlighting talented teams with stars on each side, but competitively it was one-sided. The Buckeyes led from the jump, never relinquishing its lead; a juxtaposition to game one.

“I don’t think we put our best foot forward in that first game,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “I told the team after the game that this is the best week of practice that we had. And that’s why we improved and that’s why we played well.”

What did Ohio State practice that showed on the court? Rebounding.

Tennessee entered the game with four players averaging at least five rebounds a game, not including injured forward Rickea Jackson who averages 12 per game. Not a huge total but compared to the Buckeyes whose lone player above or close to that amount was guard/forward Taylor Thierry averaging 7.7 per game.

The Vols are a team with tall, athletic, forwards who can make things difficult inside the paint, limiting offensive rebounds. Ohio State had 17 against Tennessee. That’s the highest offensive rebound total in a game for the Buckeyes in almost four years, grabbing 17 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Feb. 2, 2020.

Leading the way for the Scarlet and Gray weren’t the usual suspects of Thierry or forward Cotie McMahon. Nope, it was the starting guard duo of Celeste Taylor and Jacy Sheldon.

After making passes, the guards found solid positioning in the paint, boxing out taller Tennessee players, to better positions to jump and grab loose balls on the offensive boards. Of Taylor’s 12 rebounds on the night, half came offensively. It was by design.

“I knew rebounding would be a huge key to this game, but we did emphasize offensive rebounding all week because what happens is they’re so big around the basket. When you drive it, their post players do a good job. They come over, test shots, trying to take it away, which allows the person that they’re guarding to come in offensive,” said McGuff. “So I thought our guards did a good job attacking and making the post help.”

For Taylor and Sheldon, it wasn’t only rebounding. A look at the stat lines for the two guards tells the story of being everywhere on the court, and finding a way to make an impact:

Ohio State Guard Play

Name Points Rebounds (Offensive) Assists Steals Blocks
Name Points Rebounds (Offensive) Assists Steals Blocks
Celeste Taylor 15 12 (6) 3 2 1
Jacy Sheldon 13 7 (3) 6 4 3

It was part of an overall fantastic gift for coach McGuff on his birthday, with Taylor even regifting following the game, in the locker room.

The fun off the court matches how the Buckeyes played on it, in Knoxville. Now, the competition gets more difficult for the rest of December. On Dec. 18, the No. 2 team in the nation, the UCLA Bruins, descended on the Schottenstein Center. However, Sunday showed a team that’s growing in the early part of the season.

“We looked really connected out there today,” said McGuff. “I think both ends of the court did a really good job playing together.”