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The broken play that moved Ohio State women’s basketball into Sweet Sixteen

Guard Jacy Sheldon and an unsung hero in the Buckeyes’ win were pivotal in the game-winning shot

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Ohio Photo by Tyler Schank/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

For all but 1:02 of Monday's NCAA Tournament Second Round game between the Ohio State women’s basketball and the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Buckeyes were in the lead. However, with nine seconds remaining, Ohio State was tied with the Tar Heels. Enter senior guard Jacy Sheldon. Here’s how the play went down. A play that didn’t go according to plan but was saved by a teammate.

“It didn’t go exactly the way we wanted it,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “It got a little fouled up on our timing, and they guarded it well, they guarded the initial action really well.”

So, what went wrong in a play that ended with a game-winning shot by Sheldon?

To answer that question, take a trip back to the Big Ten Tournament. The play Ohio State ran Monday is a copy of what the Buckeyes used to win the game against the Indiana Hoosiers in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Take a look.

Against the Hoosiers it was more straightforward. Guard Rikki Harris passes the ball into forward Taylor Thierry inside the perimeter. This move draws in Indiana’s defense, leaving space for Harris to get the pass from Thierry at the top of the arc.

With Sheldon and sharpshooting guard Taylor Mikesell on each wing, Indiana can’t drop an extra defender on the ball without leaving one of them open. Not a good idea against two All-B1G First Team players.

Then, Harris makes a great individual effort to drive to the basket, hitting the eventual game-winner. A game where the Buckeyes had to come back from 24 points to pick up the conference tournament victory.

Like coach McGuff said, the Tar Heels’ defense made Monday’s game-winner different even before the inbound pass was made.

This time, Harris takes the pass again. Forward Cotie McMahon is playing the role of drawing in the defense, but guard/forward Alyssa Ustby puts strong defensive pressure on the freshman, taking away Harris’ first option. That’s when the unsung hero comes into the play.

“Eboni (Walker) did a great job kind of — like he (McGuff) said, it didn’t go as planned, and she made a great play there and that’s what led to that bucket,” said Sheldon. “So I think keeping our composure in that situation was huge, keeping possession of the ball, and that was all Eboni.”

Harris finds Walker on the wing in a play that was designed for Sheldon to have the last shot. Even though Walker is a transfer, a player who only recently began starting for the Buckeyes, the forward showed senior experience and poise in the moment.

Walker dribbles around the edge of the perimeter, and even as Mikesell runs past the forward, Walker doesn’t give the ball away to the first person she can. This is an important, but quick, moment of the play. Walker fakes the pass to Mikesell and it gives the forward enough time to get past her defender and into the key following a pass to Sheldon in the corner.

After the pass, it’s individual effort by Sheldon. The defender Walker brought into the paint is now a couple steps away from the guard from Dublin, Ohio. Even so, Sheldon had three Tar Heels in her face but none of the outstretched arms stopped the floating jumper from hitting off the back iron and into the hoop, securing Ohio State’s place in the Sweet Sixteen.

“You know, I told ‘em in the locker room, sometimes it’s about X’s and O’s and sometimes it’s about having the best player on the court,” said McGuff.

On Monday, Ohio State had the best player and then some.