On the second day of the NCAA Tournament’s First Round, the Ohio State women’s basketball team returns to the court for the first time in two weeks. Following the Buckeyes’ Big Ten Tournament final defeat to the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Scarlet & Gray welcome the Sun Belt Conference tournament-winning James Madison Dukes.
No team coached by Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff has lost a First Round game. Saturday, the Buckeyes hope that trend continues against a team that thrives off low expectations by outsiders.
The Dukes of James Madison, located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, joined the Sun Belt in 2022. After years of being the perennial powerhouse of the Colonial Athletic Association, James Madison was picked to finish sixth in their new, stronger, NCAA Division I conference. They ended up winning the regular season and conference tournament.
“This team of all the teams that I’ve coached, they actually, they used that disrespect for motivation,” said JMU head coach Sean O’Regan. “Whereas a lot of the teams that I’ve had, we always had the target on our back right from the beginning, and so this particular team likes — gets them going.”
James Madison is a team that despite the mid-major tag next to their name, is filled with talent. Talent in areas that are usually a problem for the Buckeyes. That’s in forward Kiki Jefferson and center Kseniia Kozlova. Jefferson especially is someone worth watching because of not only the ability to score, leading the Sun Belt averaging 18.7 points per game, but rebounding.
Jefferson’s 7.9 rebounds per game leads the Dukes, but she’s not alone either, sharing the paint with the 6-foot-4 Russian Kozlova. Jefferson will grab rebounds from anywhere on the court, but Kozlova will give Ohio State’s forwards, likely Eboni Walker, Taylor Thierry and Rebeka Mikulášiková a run for their money.
Kozlova is a quick big too. She can move fast in the paint, and smoothly, unlike some the center’s size. Even though the Buckeyes have played all season against forwards like all-American Mackenzie Holmes from the Indiana Hoosiers and Monika Czinano from the Iowa Hawkeyes, but Kozlova gives a different look, albeit a less offensive power than the Big Ten bigs.
Also, defensively, the Dukes will shake things up against Ohio State. James Madison will go from man coverage to zone and even institute a press at times. What’s not known is how Buckeyes’ guard Taylor Mikesell will be defended. For months, it’s been one player with their hand in the guard’s face constantly.
“She’s so multifaceted. So even if you do really high-hand and run at her, she’s got floater game in there,” said O’Regan. “She can score in there. We just have to do our thing and have the same kind of wherewithal with where she is and what she’s doing whether we are in zone, whether we are in man.”
There’s also the added incentive for Ohio State to make up for their last time out on the court, against the Hawkeyes. In both the semifinals and final of the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes went down big, needing a historic comeback against the Hoosiers. Saturday, the Scarlet & Gray can’t afford to do the same.
Fortunately for coach McGuff’s side, guard Jacy Sheldon is likely to have more minutes, according to the coach. Although she only averaged 15 minutes across three games off the bench in the Big Ten Tournament, the guard’s impact was felt.
“I think we missed more so than anything her leadership and just her experience on the court,” said Mikesell. “Her game speaks for itself and all her accolades, but we really missed having her as far as a leader and just her experience.”
- McMahon averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game in the Big Ten Tournament.
- Guard/forward Taylor Thierry leads the Buckeyes with 6.8 rebounds per game.
- Of Thierry’s 216 rebounds, 101 are offensive boards.
- Guard Peyton McDaniel leads the Dukes in three-point shooting, hitting 39.2% attempts, hitting 74 shots from deep.
- Point Guard Caroline Germond leads the Dukes with 116 assists.
The Buckeyes have a weakness in rebounding, sure, but the overall talent of Ohio State will push them through the challenge brought by JMU. Mikesell especially will have big game, without someone on James Madison with the same defensive acumen as a Chloe Moore-McNeil of the Hoosiers.
Ohio State will have a stronger first half than their first two games, but Jefferson will have a strong game against the Buckeyes defense. The Scarlet & Gray win their first game of the NCAA Tournament.
How to Watch
Date: Saturday, March 18, 2023
Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
Where: Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Stream: ESPN App
LGHL Score Prediction: 92-70 Ohio State Buckeyes
Big Big Ten Struggles Early in the Tournament
The Buckeyes enter March Madness after three days of games already played. So far, the Big Ten hasn’t shown up across the board.
For the Illinois Fighting Illini and Purdue Boilermakers, neither team technically made the 64-team tournament after both sides fell in First Four match-ups. The Illini lost to Mississippi State convincingly, and the Boilermakers had their troubles in the third quarter against the St. John’s Red Storm, but lost by two points in Thursday night’s game in Columbus.
However, the conference bounced back on Friday, with all three teams moving ahead with big wins. No. 2 seeds in the Hawkeyes and Maryland Terrapins won their games by 52 and 32 points, respectively, with the Michigan Wolverines beating UNLV by 12 points.
Saturday, the Buckeyes are the second of two Big Ten games. The No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers face No. 16 Tennessee Tech. Both games featuring conference teams should end in Big Ten wins, but it’s not called March Calmness.