On Friday night, the Ohio State women’s basketball team welcomed the Maryland Terrapins to the Schottenstein Center. What resulted was a back and forth game, featuring six lead changes and a single possession separating the two sides in a 76-74 Buckeyes defeat — a far cry from their 36-point loss to the Terps back on Feb. 5 in College Park, Maryland.
From the outside looking in, the result isn’t that bad. After all, the night before featured the Scarlet & Gray moving up from No. 16 to No. 12 in the NCAA committee’s top-16 — the almighty ranking showing who’s on track to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Also, Ohio State’s been in strong form over the last couple weeks, convincingly beating their rivals, the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines, and beating the unranked teams they should beat.
Even so, the mood following the win was anything but the team holding their heads up high for an improved performance. Guard Taylor Mikesell, who was honored before the game for senior night, responded to a question about feeling better about this game than their previous defeat.
“As a competitor, no,” said Mikesell. “Because you wanna win the game. We definitely played better but I would say this is the first time Maryland actually played us.”
That first loss on Feb. 5 featured Ohio State losing not only in points, but turnovers and rebounds. It was also the worst shooting performance of the Buckeyes’ season. The complete lapse came on the back end of losing three out of four games, including to top-10 opponents in the Iowa Hawkeyes and Indiana Hoosiers, followed by a surprise defeat to unranked Purdue University.
Friday night, Maryland saw Ohio State near their best. The Buckeyes had their best shooting percentage and efficiency from beyond the arc than any of their previous games against top-10 Big Ten opponents. Four different Buckeyes scored at least double-digit points, and Ohio State out rebounded the Terrapins 42-31.
If anything, that better performance made the defeat even worse.
“Like I told them, it should really really hurt because when you invest as much as energy, effort, togetherness into a game and you don’t get the win it’s really hard,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “It should hurt.”
What makes the pain dig even deeper sits in the number of free throw missed. In a two-point defeat, Ohio State shot 8-for-20 from the charity stripe. A 40% night on free attempts at points. In those 12 misses were two missed with 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Entering Friday, the Buckeyes shot 69.5% from the free throw line. Hitting close to that usual percentage gives Ohio State five extra points on the scoreboard, potentially creating an alternate ending where the Terps are pushing for a last second chance.
It’s easy to isolate that and pick it apart, but coach McGuff told his players the opposite.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the basket but you can always control your effort, your intensity, your competitive spirit,” said McGuff. “We did that, we just need to make one or two more plays.”
Even with the loss, and as painful as it may be, it might be what the Buckeyes need to propel them into the Big Ten Tournament. Look back at that previous 19-0 run and the subsequent 1-4 record in the two weeks following that record start to the season.
As much as Ohio State says they don't look at their record or rankings, the fall to Earth against Iowa and Indiana obviously rattled the team. A defeat in the final regular season game, in a contest where the Buckeyes had a chance to win, is the type of fuel needed to improve and take it into their fourth round matchup against a side that won’t be determined until the night before.
Fortunately, a Big Ten regular season features top teams in the country, and all feature different tactics and talent.
If record is any indicator, the No. 5 seed is most likely to face the Buckeyes on March 3. That’ll be either the Michigan Wolverines, Purdue Boilermakers or Illinois Fighting Illini. Ohio State will take Friday night’s lows and see what they can make out of them in the postseason.
“‘Keep this competitive spirit and fire and take that,’” said coach McGuff to the Buckeyes following the game. “That’s got to be the foundation of what we play on. So, to keep that where its at and then we’ll watch film and make sure we kind of shore up some things that we think we can get better with and go from there.”