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Four Storylines: No. 10 Ohio State women travel to No. 8 Maryland on Sunday

What to watch when two evenly-matched sides meet for another top-10 matchup

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 17 Women’s - Ohio State at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Jan. 20, 2022, the Ohio State women’s basketball team took to its home court and earned its biggest win of the season, to date. It was against the then-No. 12 Maryland Terrapins. The win was the Buckeyes’ first against a ranked team that season after falling to the Indiana Hoosiers and twice to the Michigan Wolverines.

The win propelled the Scarlet and Gray to an eventual Big Ten regular season title and gave a glimpse into the potential of Ohio State. On Sunday, the Buckeyes take on the Terrapins for the first time this season. It’s a game in a vastly different season for head coach Kevin McGuff’s side but has that same potential to be the start of a run through the end of the season.

Here’s what to watch in the Sunday afternoon game.

Bouncing Back from Ranked Losses

Entering Sunday, there are parallels between the Buckeyes and Terrapins. The first is their Big Ten roads this season. Both teams sit near the top of the standings with a 9-3 record, third and fourth with Ohio State edging them out on overall record.

Ohio State and Maryland both lost to an unranked Big Ten team and a pair of conference juggernauts in the Iowa Hawkeyes and Indiana Hoosiers.

Thursday night, the Terrapins were in Iowa, facing the Hawkeyes. Unlike Ohio State’s game against guard Caitlin Clark and the black and gold of Iowa where the Buckeyes kept the game close in spells, Maryland was outmatched. The Hawkeyes won 96-82 on top of 70 combined points between Clark and center Monika Czinano.

That means Ohio State is going to face a team with added motivation to win and playing on Maryland’s home court.

For the Buckeyes, it's their first test after losing three-straight games to those same Hawkeyes, Hoosiers, and unranked Purdue Boilermakers. Win this game and that bad aura of losing to the best in the conference lightens a bit but lose and eyes might have to move to the B1G Tournament and not a back-to-back regular season conference title.

Stopping Diamond Miller

That title is misleading because stopping guard Diamond Miller really isn’t something that can be done. It’s more about making it more difficult around Miller.

The senior guard is destined to be a lottery pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft, for good reason. Miller has outstanding court presence and as a 6-foot-3 athlete who can score with ease, rebound, and still provide outstanding defense is a rarity.

Miller is top five in the Big Ten in scoring with 19 points, 2.1 steals, and 1.5 blocked shots per game. Rebounding-wise, Miller leads the Terrapins with 6.2 per game, a career-high.

In other words: Maryland’s success runs through Miller.

Last year, the Buckeyes played the guard well. In Ohio State’s home win, Miller scored 12 points, under her season average, and had five rebounds and four assists. In the follow-up game, a 77-72 Maryland victory, Miller having a better game was the difference, scoring 18 points against the Buckeyes with six rebounds.

This year’s edition of Miller is even better though and she needs to be. The Terrapins lost both forward Angel Reese to the LSU Tigers and guard Ashley Owusu to the Virginia Tech Hokies.

It’ll likely be the job of underclassmen Taylor Thierry and Cotie McMahon to post up against Miller. If the two athletic forwards hold Miller to her totals from last season, it gives the Buckeyes a good chance of pulling out the win.

Three-Point Shooting

Against the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday, the Buckeyes' three-point shooting improved from their previous three games. Ohio State shot 8-for-21 after going 14-for-68 against Iowa, Indiana, and Purdue. If the Buckeyes’ three-point shooting continues to trend upward, it bodes well for the Scarlet and Gray.

In conference play this season, the Terrapins allow the most shots from deep. Maryland has allowed 95 threes in 12 games, allowing 37.1% efficiency from the perimeter, the second-worst team in the conference.

Threat-wise, the Buckeyes have guard Taylor Mikesell who’s more than capable to have a big night from three, but it’s her teammates who will need to step up. With Mikesell as currently the only consistent shooter from deep, the extra attention the guard receives means shots aren’t as easy to get off.

Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková is the teammate with the highest chance of filling that role. Her 101 attempts this season make her the only other Buckeye shooting triple-digit shots from deep. Should Mikulášiková hit her shots Sunday, that means less attention on Mikesell and more space in the paint for McMahon and Thierry to attack the basket.

Also, point guard Rikki Harris has been playing the best assisting basketball of her career. Should the ball continue to move well through Harris, the absence of guard Jacy Sheldon won’t be another talking point following a defeat, which brings the last storyline.

Does Jacy Sheldon Play?

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, coach McGuff said Sheldon is very close to returning. He reiterated that this week in midweek media availability, saying that Sheldon could possibly see time on the court this week.

This week now means Maryland. Sheldon didn’t make her debut in Madison, against the Badgers. Does that mean she’s destined to play? Not exactly.

Ohio State v Maryland
Will Sunday’s game feature a Jacy Sheldon vs. Diamond Miller matchup?
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The decision to play is in the hands of the doctor and trainers for the Buckeyes. McGuff’s assured that Sheldon won’t return until she’s 100% healthy. If she does return Sunday though, it likely won’t mean a full 40-minute game, expecting more around 20 minutes.

If Sheldon returns, not only is there another offensive threat on the floor, but the Buckeyes' defense increases tenfold. Sheldon averaged six steals per game after her five starts this season, but hasn’t played since a Nov. 30 trip to the Louisville Cardinals.

In last year’s marquee Buckeyes win, Ohio State won the turnover battle, forcing 18 against the Terrapins. This season, Maryland’s leading the Buckeyes in forcing turnovers during Big Ten play but Sheldon hasn’t played any Big Ten games.