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Freshman Cotie McMahon enters first March Madness playing upperclassmen basketball

Ohio State’s relied on McMahon this season and will continue to do so in the freshman’s first NCAA Tournament

Indiana v Ohio State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Ohio State transfer guard Taylor Mikesell’s no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. In five seasons, the Massillon, Ohio native has nine tournament games under her belt, three of which donning scarlet and gray. Saturday pushes the guard into double-digits in the final season of her career. It’s the beginning of the end of the journey for Mikesell in the NCAA. Freshman forward Cotie McMahon just pulled onto the road.

McMahon enrolled in Ohio State in January of 2022, a full 11 months before the forward would see any action on the court for head coach Scarlet & Gray. That didn’t mean it took year to stand out.

“The one thing you never really know until they get on campus is how hard they’re going to work. From Day 1, she’s worked incredibly hard,” said coach Kevin McGuff before Saturday’s NCAA Tournament clash against James Madison University. “That’s sort of rare for a freshman. It’s usually a big adjustment, but for her, her intensity and her competitive character was evident from Day 1.”

That hard work mentality meant that once McMahon did see the court, she was in the starting lineup.

McMahon started her NCAA career scoring 10 points against the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers, which is no small feat in a collegiate debut. Those points included steals, fast breaks and the energy and intensity that’s become synonymous with McMahon over the past four months.

Ohio State won that game and 18 more before a defeat popped up in the loss column. In those 19 victories, McMahon’s growth was on display but it took some time. Then, after one game all things seemed to change.

In the first six games of the season, McMahon had 13 rebounds and seven assists total. On Nov. 30, on a trip to face the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals, McMahon only played six minutes, earning two fouls in limited minutes.

It wasn’t an injury that sidelined her, but the high intensity play of someone Coach McGuff calls “the most exciting five seconds in college basketball” didn’t come with the complete game that playing in a power five conference requires.

“In the beginning she was kind of mowing people down around the basket,” said McGuff. “She’s a little more under control and a little more measured, and her vision is a little better about where she’s going.”

Following that Buckeyes comeback victory in Louisville, McMahon was different. The forward still showed those blistering runs that made her so dangerous, but the game began slowing down.

Instead of having a laser eye on the rim, McMahon looked around for options if a clear path, or a higher percentage look was on the court. Rebounding-wise, the forward got into the scrap more often, using her athleticism and vision to be in the right place to grab rebounds.

Only three games after that benching, McMahon grabbed 10 rebounds against a Michigan State Spartans team that took the Buckeyes to the wire. McMahon’s first double-digit rebounding game, but not her last. The freshman also had eight points that day, a possession shy of her first collegiate double-double.

After that Big Ten home victory, and a month after the Louisville benching, McMahon became the reason Ohio State was winning. On Dec. 20, taking on the USF Bulls, McMahon hit another level. The forward scored 30 points and also the game-winning assist in overtime, off a block by forward Eboni Walker.

The performance came in a game where the Buckeyes went down 18 points in the first half and lost point guard Madison Greene in the fourth quarter to a season-ending knee injury.

McMahon’s performance against USF and increasing distribution and court awareness won her a B1G Freshman of the Week honor on Jan. 2. Since then, McMahon’s won five more, tying former Buckeye Kelsey Mitchell for the most in program history.

“I mean, it’s kind of crazy to think that she’s only a freshman,” said Mikesell. “She’s going to be sitting up here three years from now, and you’re going to be asking her all the questions about where she was three years ago.”

Now, McMahon is on the cusp of McMahon’s first NCAA game. As the stage has grown this season, so have the individual performances. Although Ohio State lost to the Indiana Hoosiers in the regular season, the Crimson had no answer for her for half of the Jan. 26 game in Bloomington, Indiana. McMahon took on two to three defenders, spinning through making acrobatic layups, something now common place for the freshman.

Overall, McMahon shifted a beginning of the year averaging 8.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1 assist in the seven games to 16.52 points, 6.24 rebounds and 3 assists in the final 25. That includes three double-doubles, two coming in the first pair of Big Ten Tournament games two weeks ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In that same 25-game span, McMahon is second on the team in average points, behind only Mikesell and second in rebounds, behind sophomore and fellow standout Taylor Thierry. It’s not normal freshman behavior.

“I feel like I’ve grown a lot,” said McMahon, with a laugh. “Yeah, at the beginning of the season I wasn’t very confident. I was very passive. I feel like I’m still obviously passive, but I feel like I kind of have more confidence in myself to be able to score and stuff like that.”

Now, the attention is laser focused on March Madness and, for a player who didn’t get as much national attention entering the season, that focus has a big focus on the freshman McMahon.

Defenses can’t seem to stop her and she’s improving by the week. McMahon looks to continue that trajectory against the James Madison Dukes, but an increasing confidence and improved performances doesn’t change everything for the student athlete.

“Yeah. Yeah, I still feel like a freshman,” said McMahon, laughing. “I feel like a freshman as far as, you know, all these old heads on the team.”

We’ll see what McMahon has to say in three years.