It was simple for the Ohio State women’s basketball team on Monday: Win and get a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. It was by no means an easy task, however, traveling north three hours to Ann Arbor, Mich. against the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines.
After a slow start to the game, the Buckeyes responded by going ahead and maintaining their lead when it counted: At the final buzzer. The Buckeye clinched the double-bye with a 74-61 victory.
Absent from the game again was guard Jacy Sheldon, missing her fourth game in a row. The guard is still returning from a foot injury sustained at the end of 2022. Sheldon’s started one game since Nov. 30 when the Buckeyes beat the Louisville Cardinals in Kentucky.
Speaking of injuries, forward Eboni Walker made her third start in a row for forward Rebeka Mikulášiková, who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Feb. 8. The forward’s played since then, but in a limited bench role.
From the jump, the Buckeyes had trouble scoring. Ohio State went 1-for-4 from the field before head coach Kevin McGuff called a timeout. The reason for the quick T.O. was the fact that Michigan started off exactly the opposite from the floor.
The Wolverines went up 10-2 in the first three minutes of the game. Before the game, guard Leigha Brown for Michigan was honored for her 1,000th point in her NCAA career and added three more early. Brown hit a three-point shot and on the following offensive possession Ohio State passed the ball into traffic and guard Maddie Nolan went on the fastbreak, hitting the layup.
Out of the timeout, the Buckeyes looked like they calmed down, and with it came an offensive surge. Ohio State outscored Michigan 22-7, not missing any of their six three-point attempts following the timeout.
The Buckeyes achieved it through extra passes and forcing turnovers. Michigan gave up the ball seven times in the first quarter, leading to seven points off turnovers for the visiting Scarlet and Gray.
In the passing game, guard Taylor Mikesell was given even less space, often finding a double-team once she got near the perimeter. In response, Mikesell found open teammates or started a string of multiple passes to find the open player. It paid dividends.
Mikesell and guard/forward Taylor Thierry were 5-for-5 from deep, with Mikesell hitting three of the five. Ohio State went from eight points down to seven points up after the first quarter. Ahead of the home side 24-17.
Ohio State continued their 11-point run into the second quarter, with forward Rebeka Mikulášiková hitting her only shot of the first half. It pushed the Buckeyes to their largest lead of the half at 10 points.
Michigan and Ohio State played an even second quarter, overall. Scoring-wise, it was a showdown against two guards. Brown for the Wolverines and Harris for the Buckeyes. By halftime, both team leaders surpassed their season averages for scoring thanks to a big second quarter.
Of 20 second-quarter points for the Maize and Blue, Brown had 14 on 6-for-10 shooting, with only one coming from the free throw line. By the halftime whistle, Brown already had 21 points and five rebounds, similar to Penn State guard Makenna Marisa who put up 18 against the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter of Ohio State’s Thursday night win.
For the Scarlet and Gray, Harris was perfect in the second quarter but what impressed the most was improved free throw shooting. Harris entered the game averaging 59.6% shooting from the line. By halftime, Harris was up perfect in her five attempts from the charity stripe.
An area that helped the home side immensely was rebounding. Michigan outrebounded Ohio State 16-9 in the first two quarters. That gave the Wolverines more chances at point-scoring opportunities. For example, forward Emily Kiser went to the line for two free throws and missed both.
Instead of a lucky defensive possession for McGuff’s Buckeyes, Michigan won the rebound and hit a three, the lone shot from deep for Brown in the second quarter. With 1:28 remaining in the second quarter, Michigan shrunk their 10-point deficit down to one. Harris was fouled on a three attempt and hit all three to end the quarter, pushing Ohio State’s lead back up to four with a 41-37 lead halfway through the game.
Scoring slowed down immensely in the second half. With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Buckeyes held the Wolverines to eight points, and half coming from Brown.
With that, Ohio State was able to increase their lead back up to eight points, thanks to performances from multiple Buckeyes. Absent from that impact was forward Cotie McMahon. After averaging 4.7 trips to the free throw line this season, because of her ability to get into the paint and attack the basket, McMahon didn’t have a foul called her way while shooting.
It resulted in missed layup attempts and only two points through three quarters. McMahon had more fouls than points, earning her fourth foul and a trip to the bench with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
In McMahon’s place was guard Emma Shumate. The Newark, Ohio native hasn’t played many minutes in meaningful game moments the last few weeks but made the most of her appearance in the third. Shumate scored two points but more impressively grabbed two offensive rebounds in a game where the Buckeyes were being outrebounded heavily.
Also, Mikulášiková led the Buckeyes scoring four points in the third, all from inside the post. Because Ohio State’s defense held Michigan to 11 third-quarter points, there wasn’t a need for an offensive explosion and the Scarlet & Gray went into the final quarter up 55-48.
On New Year’s Eve, Ohio State had a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines cut it to two with 6:47 left in the game. Ohio State still won that holiday game but the Buckeyes would need to avoid a collapse like that to earn their second win over the Wolverines this season.
Ohio State did that by outscoring the Wolverines 7-2 to start the final quarter. Michigan began it going 0-for-7 from the field, with the only two points coming from free throws by Brown.
Defensively, the Buckeyes kept up the pressure on their rivals. Ohio State forced four turnovers halfway through the quarter. With 5:01 remaining, the visitor’s lead was nine points.
The shots continued to not fall for the Wolverines through the end of the game and Ohio State pilled on. In front of a loud Crisler Center crowd, including Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and his family, the Buckeyes beat their rivals 74-61.
Rikki Harris’ Night
With a mostly neutralized McMahon, it was Harris who stepped up for the Buckeyes. The point guard scored 23 points, seven steals, and five assists on the defense side of the game. Harris was everywhere for the Buckeyes and had her biggest game of the season when Ohio State needed it the most.
Although Harris fouled out, it was when the Buckeyes were up 12 points and in control of the game.
Full Court Press Does the Job
Ohio State was effective on Monday because of a return to their dangerous full-court press. While the Scarlet & Gray have used the defensive set all season, even in defeats, it was lethal against the Maize & Blue.
The Buckeyes forced 27 turnovers, resulting in 17 points off turnovers. Even though Michigan controlled the boards all night, it didn’t matter. Ohio State forced three 10-second violations in the backcourt, not letting the Wolverines get into rhythm.
The Buckeyes have one game remaining in the regular season, Friday night at 6 p.m. ET in Columbus against the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins. It’s the last chance Ohio State has to redeem its ranking and push to host the first two rounds of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
In their last game out, the Terrapins beat the Buckeyes by 34 points, Ohio State’s largest defeat of the season.