The Ohio State women’s basketball team is a program looking to get back on track when it counts most: The final week of the Big Ten regular season. After going 19-0, Ohio State is 2-5 and looking to stay near the top of the conference standings, in hope to host NCAA tournament games and skip an extra round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Head coach Kevin McGuff and the Buckeyes’ fight started Thursday against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes beat the Nittany Lions 67-55, overcoming self-inflicted turnover problems early in the game to earn the victory.
From the jump, the Scarlet & Gray came out quickly. Still without guard Jacy Sheldon, the ball was in the hands of standout freshman forward Cotie McMahon. The Ohioan got Ohio State off with a layup after guard Rikki Harris got the first steal of the game for the Buckeyes.
Penn State though, known for playing fast themselves, tried to slow the Buckeyes down in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, guard Leilani Kapinus gave the home team a scare early. Kapinus, who’s sixth in the country averaging 3.36 steals per game, got into position to take a charge, but her head hit the court hard.
Fortunately, Kapinus returned to the game in the first quarter, but when she returned Ohio State was on a roll.
After Penn State freshman guard Shay Ciezki hit the first five points of the game for the Lions, the Buckeyes went on a 12-point run with four different Buckeyes contributing. Leading the way was McMahon. The freshman had seven points in the first half of the quarter, along with guard Taylor Mikesell hitting a three on a quick screen, still battling with a defender stuck to her like glue.
Then, things went awry for McGuff’s side.
Up 12 points, the Buckeyes went on a scoreless run of 3:53 of game time. In that span, Ohio State gave the ball up five times. At one point, after Penn State forward Chanaya Pinto went from the perimeter to the basket unmarked and in a wide open lane, Coach McGuff and the Buckeyes called a timeout as the coach was storming onto the court, visibly angry at his team for the mental lapse on the defensive end of the court.
Penn State went on a seven-point run and went into the second quarter down only five points. A positive for Ohio State in that rough stretch was the return of forward Rebeka Mikulášiková.
After suffering a high ankle sprain last week against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mikulášiková missed Monday’s defeat to Indiana and looked like she wasn’t available tonight with forward Eboni Walker starting in her place. However, the Slovakian forward was suited up and came in three first half minutes, hitting a midrange shot to score two points in the half.
In the second quarter, the Buckeyes calmed down on the offensive side of the ball and slowed down the pace. That limited turnovers, with two of their five first quarter turnovers coming off of passes where the passer didn’t see a Nittany Lion draped on the player receiving the ball.
The Buckeyes pushed their lead back up to 12 points, thanks to another even scoring quarter across the board. No one Ohio State player dominated in offensive production, but six different Buckeyes got the ball into the basket in the second quarter.
Ohio State’s defense also improved. In the second quarter, the Buckeyes held the Nittany Lions to 10 total points and both Taylors for the Scarlet & Gray made impressive blocks.
Sophomore Taylor Thierry was first. The guard/forward hybrid was draped on Penn State guard Taniyah Thompson. Just outside of the key, Thompson went for a shot and Thierry matched the jump shot and then some, blocking the attempt and winning possession For Ohio State.
Then, with a minute remaining, Harris took a quick three from the top of the arc and missed, rimming out to guard Makenna Marisa who sent the Nittany Lions on the break. Not giving up on the play was Mikesell. Playing like her most famous fan, NBA superstar LeBron James, Mikesell didn’t give up on the play and ran down the court to block a layup on forward Aicha Dia.
The Buckeyes reasserted themselves in the second quarter and went into the locker room up 38-26.
For all the excitement of the first half, the start to the second half was a whimper. Both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions failed to hit at least 20% shooting in the first half of the third quarter, combining for nine points total in over five minutes.
Ohio State shot 14.3% while the Nittany Lions shot slightly better at 18.2%. Either team hitting close to their average would turn the game into one side’s favor and it ended up being the Buckeyes.
The visitors came out of the media timeout, halfway through the third quarter, on a nine-point run, extending their lead to 20 points. Ohio State held the home team without a point for the final 5:52 of the third quarter, extending into the final quarter.
It’d be 8:39 of time off the clock before the Nittany Lions hit a shot again. Before they could, Ohio State hit a trifecta of triples. The first two came off Harris, having only her fourth game of the season where the redshirt junior hit multiple three-pointers in a game this season.
Ohio State extended their lead to 29 points, but Penn State pushed back. The Nittany Lions answered with an 16-point run of their own. It trimmed the Scarlet & Gray’s lead down to 13 points. Marisa scored 18 fourth quarter points, better than the four points Marisa scored combined in the three previous quarters combined.
In that run, the Scarlet & Gray had more injury concern when Walker, already starting because of an injured Mikulášiková, went down with a rolled ankle. It’s the last thing Ohio State needs with only a week remaining in the regular season and 13 days until the Big Ten tournament begins.
Either way, the comeback run was too late for Penn State as Ohio State pulls out the victory, 67-55.
Ohio State Defense Bends
The story of the evening for Ohio State was their defense. Entering Thursday, the Nittany Lions featured a pair of dynamic guards in Marisa and Ciezki. For most of the night though, the Buckeyes kept them silent until the final minutes of the game.
Ciezki’s five points to start the game were the only points the freshman scored going into the fourth quarter.
For Marisa, who led the Nittany Lions with 18 points per game scoring entering Thursday, had four going into the final seven minutes of the game on 1-for-10 shooting. Then the guard exploded for 18 fourth quarter points, an area of concern for the Buckeyes even with the win.
Cotie McMahon Leads
It’s becoming a regular theme for the Buckeyes that the energy and intensity on the court runs through McMahon. The freshman forward led the Buckeyes in scoring with 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Penn State. It was McMahon’s first double-double and the performance also showed highlighted different parts of her game.
In previous games, it was go for the basket or nothing. On Thursday, McMahon hit a three-point shot and also held up when going to the basket, opting for midrange efforts. McMahon had a night that makes her look more dangerous than she’s already looked in the past two months of the season, a scary prospect for the opponents.
The Buckeyes now have only two regular season games left this season, with the Big Ten Tournament coming soon, tipping off on March 1. Ohio State ends their conference schedule with a pair of big games.
It begins Monday, with a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. That’s when the Scarlet & Gray take on the Maize & Blue of the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines. On Friday, the season ends at the Schottenstein Center, with a visit from the No. 8 Maryland Terrapins.
Getting into the top four of the conference, and getting a double-bye in the conference tournament, will come down to how the Buckeyes perform in their final two games of the season.