Great basketball teams know they’re great. Despite what is sometimes said in media availability about taking things one game at a time, some games grab more attention than others. For Ohio State women’s basketball, Tuesday was not one of those games.
No offense to the Ohio University Bobcats, but the game against a 6-23 MAC side from last season fell during an interesting stretch of the Buckeyes’ 23-24 season. The game came two days after a trip to SEC country, facing the Tennessee Volunteers. Then on Sunday it's the first Big Ten game of the season against a Penn State Nittany Lions team on the rise. Look a little bit further into the future and the No. 2 team in the country comes to the Schottenstein Center on Dec. 18, the UCLA Bruins.
Considering the increased difficulty of schedule that the scarlet and gray are in, taking a day off on Tuesday against the Bobcats made all the sense in the world. That’s not a strategy of interest to head coach Kevin McGuff.
“We can’t turn on, turn off,” said McGuff. “If we’re gonna be who we’re capable of being, then we need to be on all the time.”
That was the message to the Buckeyes’ locker room at halftime. At that moment, Ohio State was up 29 points to the Bobcats. A marked improvement compared to last year’s final score when coach McGuff and the Buckeyes played Ohio in Athens, winning by 30 points.
The Buckeyes pushed the lead up to 41 points, with starters playing a majority of the third quarter. Guard Celeste Taylor was the last remaining starter to play, finishing the final three and a half minutes of the third quarter with four teammates off the bench. In other words, Ohio State didn’t relent.
Two days prior, the scarlet and gray did the same thing. The Buckeyes defeated the Vols, leading from jump ball to final buzzer. These kind of performances haven’t been the case for Ohio State in the past two seasons.
In the first 19 games of the scarlet and gray’s 22-23 season, Ohio State was 5-0 in games where it went down by double-digit points. Against the Tennessee Volunteers, Louisville Cardinals and Minnesota Golden Gophers, the deficits were early enough in the game where it didn’t cause too much of a headache for the Buckeyes to flip the switch and come out on top.
However, in December and January the cracks almost stopped the Buckeyes’ record start to the campaign.
Against the USF Bulls on Dec. 20, Ohio State needed a miraculous comeback in the final minute of regulation and overtime to squeak by with a victory. On Jan. 8, the Buckeyes cut down a 17-point third quarter lead for the Illinois Fighting Illini in one quarter. Following that Buckeyes win, the tide finally turned.
“You start turning on, turning off, and that’s kind of who you become, and it’ll show up in bigger games,” said McGuff.
That’s exactly what happened. Over the remaining 17 games, coach McGuff’s side went down by double-digits nine times, winning only twice. While one was a record-breaking 24-point comeback against the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament, there were also 36 and 38-point defeats to the Maryland Terrapins and Iowa Hawkeyes. Each game exposing a Buckeyes team that was either unprepared or expecting that switch to flip.
The last two weeks of Buckeyes basketball shows a team getting closer to its goal of playing four quarters of consistent basketball. Leaving the switch at the on position.
Since the defeat to the USC Trojans to start the year, Ohio State’s been outscored in only three out of 24 quarters. Of those three, one was the fourth quarter of a win against Boston College where the Buckeyes didn’t play any starters. The other two came during the Pink Flamingo Championship (one against both the East Carolina Pirates and Oklahoma State Cowgirls).
Each time, McGuff chalked lulls in play down to a general lack of energy. Buckeyes didn’t get into rebounding positions, close down shooters or make extra passes in situations where Ohio State was already in the lead.
Albeit a small sample size, Sunday and Tuesday’s wins are more indicative of the team the scarlet and gray are hoping to become. The upcoming stretch of games for the Buckeyes gives this improved form the chance for stiffer competition. Starting with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State started the year strong, going 7-1 with the only defeat coming at the hands of the USC Trojans, and even that was only by a single point. Sunday, the Lions enter the Schottenstein Center after suffering what looks like a focus-based stumble of their own.
Monday night In Morgantown, WV, the Mountaineers went down early but dominated three quarters of play against Penn State, on their way to an 83-65 defeat. While the ACC side was undefeated going into the game, it wasn’t against the same caliber of competition Penn State’s faced so far this season.
Plus, the Nittany Lions haven’t lost to their former conference rivals since 1989, long before any player on either side was even born. The defeat was a perfect example of what happens when a team relies on flipping that switch. It also means Penn State enters Sunday with more motivation than there already is facing a Buckeyes team who’s competing for a National Championship.
“Their (Penn State’s) chemistry is good, and this will be a really big test for us,” said McGuff. “All of that will get our players’ attention, and they know that we’ve got a really terrific opponent coming in this Sunday.”