Last season, the Ohio State women’s basketball team received a monumental boost from the transfer portal when guard Taylor Mikesell joined the Scarlet & Gray. Mikesell started for the Buckeyes following a two-year stint with the Maryland Terrapins and a tough single year with the Oregon Ducks. Immediately, Mikesell made an impact with scoring and leadership that led to a Big Ten regular season conference championship. This season, Mikesell is even better.
Wednesday, the Massillon, Ohio native scored 21 points against the Wisconsin Badgers. An above-average scoring night but within those ticks on the stat sheet was an important individual milestone. In the third quarter, with 31 seconds remaining, Mikesell hit the 1,000 points mark as a member of the Buckeyes. You can imagine her excitement.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Mikesell. “I had no idea.”
The response is in line with who Mikesell’s been since joining the Buckeyes. Individual accomplishments aren’t part of her vocabulary. Mikesell found out because head coach Kevin McGuff told her.
How the achievement was reached made sense for Mikesell too, hitting the mark on a three-point shot.
Since joining Ohio State, Mikesell has made a name for herself from beyond the arc. In the 2021-22 title season, Mikesell hit 114 three-point attempts, a career-high. At one point, the guard was hitting them with 50% efficiency, leading the nation in three-point percentage.
This season though, those other-worldly numbers aren’t there for the Jackson High School graduate. Actually, most of Mikesell’s scoring numbers are down but it’s by no means a down year.
Overall, Mikesell is scoring .7 points less per game and shooting 4% and 8% worse from the field overall and from deep, respectively. The guard is doing it as the Buckeyes' only consistent three-point threat.
What made Mikesell even more effective in her introduction season as a Buckeye was getting open looks on the perimeter. Next to currently injured guard Jacy Sheldon and now-LSU guard Kateri Poole, Mikesell received passes with room to get off a shot, something the quick-releasing guard doesn’t necessarily need.
It hasn’t hurt the Buckeyes until late, but three-point shooting as a team is top-heavy for Ohio State without Sheldon. Mikesell’s 186 attempts this year, the most in the Big Ten and third most in the NCAA, match the total of six other Buckeyes who play regular minutes. That’s not including forward Rebeka Mikulasikova’s 101 shots from three, the next closest on the roster.
Defenses know this, with Mikesell now rarely without a defender or two in her face. It was exploited in Ohio State’s three-game losing streak. Against the then No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes, No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers, and unranked Purdue Boilermakers, Mikesell scored six threes total, mostly from quick releases in the second or two the guard had off screens.
Mikesell’s decreased offensive numbers are an example of how vital she is to the Buckeyes. Look elsewhere around the NCAA and South Carolina Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston is another good example of this downturn. Boston’s 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game this season is her lowest since her freshman year, but nobody is going to say Boston isn’t one of the best players in the game.
When there’s a clear threat on a team, the open looks from years past become much more narrow. For opposing coaches, Mikesell’s name is likely near or at the top of their list in preparation. With Mikesell receiving all that added attention, others are benefiting.
Forwards Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry have room to move into the paint and exploit teams who can’t afford to take someone away from Mikesell. On Wednesday, Thierry hit a career-high 25 points against Wisconsin.
Their productivity and ability to read defenses and take advantage of lanes has kept the Buckeyes in games of late, including scoring the first 13 points of Ohio State’s third quarter as the Wisconsin Badgers were fighting back from an 11-point halftime deficit.
It’s through Mikesell’s leadership, along with other senior members of the team, that McMahon and Thierry are learning from before the guard is done at the end of the season. It’s cliche, but true in Mikesell’s case that she’s the first one in the gym for practice and on the court before games.
“She’s doing a fantastic job, having a great year,” said head coach Kevin McGuff about Mikesell before Ohio State’s trip to Nebraska. “And just no surprise to me, she works so incredibly hard.
That hard work ethic is echoed by coach McGuff when he talks about Thierry and McMahon. That motivation isn’t all based on Mikesell, but the guard shows how much hard work in practice pays off on the court.
This season, Mikesell is having her best assists year in her five NCAA seasons. The graduate senior’s shifted to a point guard for parts of games, with Madison Greene going out with a season-ending knee injury.
So, Mikesell might not be scoring as much, but her assists are making up for it and then some. If Sheldon returns, remains healthy, and makes her pre-injury impact, Mikesell receives more freedom and can truly be unleashed in this Buckeyes lineup, but the guard isn’t doing it alone.
“It was cool to hear that,” said Mikesell about her 1,000th Buckeye point. “But credit to my teammates and the position that they’ve put me in to score and credit to coach McGuff and the coaching staff.”