The Ohio State women’s basketball team were back in action on Saturday, opening up their NCAA Tournament campaign against the James Madison Dukes. It was the first time the Buckeyes women’s team played a game in March Madness in the Schottenstein Center, and within the team there was another first with guard Jacy Sheldon making her first start in Columbus since Nov. 20.
Ohio State played a Dukes team with upset on its mind, but the Buckeyes used their home court advantage to beat the Sun Belt team 80-66. With the win, head coach Kevin McGuff’s side plays again, Monday night at the Schottenstein Center.
Coming out of the gate, both sides were trading shots. James Madison’s star guard Kiki Jefferson scored five quick points, and early Ohio State had to work out of a hole. The Buckeyes did through a six-point run, going up two, but that’s when an unwelcome friend arrived again for the Scarlet & Gray: Cold shooting.
Like in the semifinal and final of the Big Ten Tournament, against the Indiana Hoosiers and Iowa Hawkeyes, the Buckeyes’ shooting struggled. James Madison went on runs of five and seven points, with only single free throws ending each spell of the game.
The visitors went up 12 points to the home team, with defensive stops coming sporadically. James Madison hit 50% of their first quarter shots, compared to 28.6% for Ohio State. After 10 minutes, the Dukes were up 26-14, spelling potential danger for the Buckeyes.
Foul trouble also had its mark on the game. Underclassmen Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry, staples of the Buckeyes’ success this season, each earned two fouls in the first quarter. Neither played the entire 10 minutes to start the game, but even with foul issues and Ohio State receiving some tough whistles, making shots changes the conversation.
That was exactly what the Buckeyes couldn’t do. Ohio State missed 12 shots in a row, pushing the Dukes’ lead up to 14 points in the second quarter. A silver lining in the quarter was that defense was keeping the lead from going much higher than the 14 points.
With the defensive pressure also came fouls. Each side earned 10 by the halfway point of the second quarter. Sheldon grabbed a second of her own, just as Ohio State was starting to gain some success with the press. On the second whistle, it looked like an even play for a loose ball but it went against the hometown guard.
It was part frustration and part disagreeing with previous calls, but the crowd at the Schottenstein Center was borderline hostile on the call, watching their Buckeyes down 15 points to a mid-major Sun Belt side.
Things looked bleak for head coach Kevin McGuff’s side, but the tide started to turn. It came through Ohio State’s defensive press. James Madison was forced into six turnovers in the last six minutes of the second quarter.
With the turnovers came points. The Buckeyes had eight points off turnovers in the second quarter and went on a 12-0 run for the final 3:09 of the first half. Of those, eight came from McMahon.
The freshman avoided picking up another foul in the second quarter, and started forcing them from the Dukes. McMahon went 5-for-7 from the free throw line and the 15-point James Madison lead shrunk to three at halftime. The Scarlet & Gray went into the locker room with the momentum and a 37-34 deficit.
James Madison’s lead didn’t last long in the third quarter. Following some sloppy play by both sides to start the second half, Thierry hit a fastbreak layup and free throw to put the game back to where it was at the jump.
The start of the second half looked more like fans in the arena expected the game to go. Ohio State continued to force turnovers and shots began to fell. The Buckeyes went on a seven-point run, going up six points with three minutes remaining in the quarter.
James Madison cut the Ohio State lead to four, but in the fourth the Buckeyes didn’t relent. The Scarlet & Gray scored the eight six points of the quarter, extending the home lead. Also, the Dukes gave away multiple turnovers in the first two minutes and needed a timeout, going down down 62-50.
Out of the timeout, JMU hit a layup, but Thierry and guard Taylor Mikesell each hit a shot, extending that lead to 15 points. For Mikesell, it was her first three of the game, missing her first five. Only the second three point shot Ohio State made up to that point.
The fouls added up though, and Thierry picked up her fifth, and second of the quarter, sitting her on the bench. Even so, coach McGuff’s side was up 17 points on the Dukes with 5:00 remaining in the game.
Up 17 points with only three minutes left, the Dukes weren’t giving up, hoping to keep their season alive. James Madison went on a four-point run but it was short-lived, with the Buckeyes cutting the comeback short.
With only a minute remaining, McMahon joined Thierry on the bench with her fifth foul, plus a technical for bouncing the ball in frustration following the foul. However, the damage was done. McMahon had 18 points and five rebounds in the 80-66 Ohio State victory.
Needing to Fight
Ohio State doesn’t doesn’t like to go down to their opponents, but its hard to tell from watching the Buckeyes of late. Saturday was the third game in a row for the Scarlet & Gray where a double-digit deficit looked them in the face on the scoreboard.
While the Buckeyes have made a season on going down to opponents, Saturday’s 15-point second quarter was a surprise. Even if it was against a mid-major team, in March, everyone in the tournament is a champion or playing in some of the strongest conferences in the nation.
A comeback won't come as easily against the North Carolina Tar Heels or St. John’s Red Storm.
After coming off the bench in all three Big Ten Tournament games, Sheldon got the start for March Madness. After only averaging 15 minutes per game in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the guard played closer to a pre-injury game.
With that also came larger contribution. In 36 minutes, the guard had 17 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals on the day. Sheldon also led everyone on the court in +/- at 28.
With the victory, the Buckeyes await their next opponent. Following the first game of Columbus’ first round, it’s the North Carolina Tar Heels of the ACC and St. John’s Red Storm of the Big East playing for a spot in Monday’s NCAA Second Round.
Whoever wins Monday’s game heads west, to Seattle, Washington, for the Sweet Sixteen and a chance at a regional final in the Elite Eight.