Monday night it was the Elite Eight. The first NCAA regional final for the Ohio State women’s basketball team in 30 years and the first for the Virginia Tech Hokies in the program’s history. Playing for a spot in the Final Four in Dallas, Texas, it was a story of the Buckeyes’ press versus the ACC Tournament champions, entering the game on a 14-game winning streak.
The Hokies pushed the streak to 15 wins, following its 84-74 defeat over the Buckeyes, ending the 22-23 season for the Scarlet and Gray.
To put it lightly, the start of the game was blistering. For all the talk of pressing and defense, it was the offenses that took center stage. Ohio State went 7-for-9 but Virginia Tech went 7-for-7, and in that stretch the Hokies were perfect from beyond the arc, going 3-for-3.
It put Virginia Tech in the driver’s seat, ahead 17-10 after just under four minutes of game time. That’s when Ohio State’s defense showed up but it wasn’t the press.
The defense started going into the media timeout with 4:26 remaining in the first quarter. Center Elizabeth Kitley for Tech had an open look in the paint, or so she thought. Flying in behind the 6-foot-6 star was forward Cotie McMahon. The freshman flew in and swatted the attempt away, sending the ball and herself to the court.
Virginia Tech hit only one of their remaining nine shots in the quarter and Ohio State responded by going 5-for-7. The Buckeyes erased the lead and then some, thanks to 3-for-3 shooting from guard Taylor Mikesell, all from beyond the arc. Mikesell matched her Saturday high in one quarter, looking more comfortable than in the win over UConn.
Ohio State took that renewed comfort and solid play on both sides of the court into the second quarter with a 25-22 lead.
Into the second quarter, the Buckeyes and Hokies continued to trade blows in scoring, but then it was a player receiving a scary blow on a foul. It was outstanding Virginia Tech guard Georgia Amoore fouled by Ohio State forward Eboni Walker. Amoore went to the ground hard and needed help to get off the court. It didn’t keep Amoore out long though, entering 44 game seconds later.
Back in the game, Amoore hit the three that put the Hokies back into the lead, but it didn’t last long. Off the make, the Buckeyes went into a six-point run, including a fourth made three-pointer by Mikesell in a row.
Off a timeout, the Hokies shrunk the five-point Scarlet and Gray lead with a pair of free throws. Then, guard Cayla King hit a three, tying the game at 36 with 4:10 remaining in the first half.
For the rest of the quarter, the game was tied three times and the lead changed three times too. It was evidence of two evenly matched sides battling for their spot in the Final Four.
With under three minutes remaining in the half, Ohio State got up to a five-point lead, their largest of the game to that point but struggled to score for the rest of the quarter. The Scarlet & Gray’s last four points of the half came off free throws, with Virginia Tech scoring six, going ahead 48-45 into halftime.
Also, Ohio State was in the game and competing on every play even without the use of its full-court press. The Buckeyes played half-court defense, sometimes well but sometimes allowing open looks that fell early for the Scarlet and Gray.
It was clear that missing shots regularly wasn’t going to keep head coach Kevin McGuff’s side competing with the strong offensive-minded Virginia Tech Hokies.
Coming out of the locker room, the game stayed close, but Virginia Tech took advantage of a Buckeyes side that initially struggled to hit their shots. Ohio State went 2-for-8 in the first half of the third quarter. Tech didn’t perform much better, but already having a lead, the extra points extended it.
That trend continued into the closing minutes of the third quarter. The Buckeyes faced a five-point deficit with coach McGuff opting for a timeout. In past games, the coach uses the press out of timeouts to provide a spark to the Scarlet & Gray.
Ohio State came out with their press and immediately caused a 10-second violation on Virginia Tech, but the scoring didn’t follow. As the Buckeyes got the Hokies into the bonus, Tech extended their to eight points, with Amoore putting an exclamation point on the end of the quarter with a three-point shot at the buzzer.
The Scarlet and Gray had 10 minutes to get out of a 63-55 deficit if it hoped to make it a game.
Back on the court for the fourth quarter, the shooting woes forged on for the Buckeyes. McMahon got Ohio State going with two fouls, but the press that was just getting going for the Scarlet & Gray led to two layups by Kitley, pushing the Tech lead to 10 points.
Again, coach McGuff called a timeout. It was a moment to slow the VT shooting down and gather the team for the final eight minutes and change left in the game and possibly the season.
The Buckeyes responded, specifically guard Jacy Sheldon did so. Ohio State’s point guard hit a layup and a free throw, getting the game back to within single digits, down seven points. However, VT kept having a response.
Back to a 10-point lead off a layup and FT by Kitley, the Buckeyes were then faced with a Tech side that slowed the game down substantially on offense. That forced Ohio State to go into the half-court exclusively with shots not going in on offense.
The end of Ohio State’s season ticked away off the clock. With five minutes left, it was still up to 10 points, making the likelihood of a comeback more and more unlikely.
Virginia Tech increased the lead more, going up 13 points with 3:44 remaining off another three by Amoore, her fourth of the night.
With only two minutes remaining, and the Buckeyes unable to chip away, it turned into a game of free throws for the Hokies and fervent attacks for Ohio State.
With 57.2 seconds remaining, McMahon was taken out on a run to the basket by VT’s D’Asia Gregg, leaving the freshman in bad shape on the court. With McMahon’s mom cheering her daughter on from the crowd, she hit both free throws to cut the deficit to seven points.
Unfortunately for McGuff’s side, it wasn’t enough to make it competitive in the closing minutes.
Credit goes to Hokies outstanding point guard Amoore who found a way to dribble through the press, going horizontal instead of left to right.
Virginia Tech ended up winning the game 84-74, going to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
For as hot as the shooting was to start the game, hitting 64.3% of shots in the first half, the third quarter saw Ohio State in the freezer. The Buckeyes went 4-for-15 out of halftime, good for 26.7% efficiency.
It was over three and a half minutes between baskets for Ohio State, while Virginia Tech increased their four-point lead up to eight points. It created another required comeback situation, but this time the Buckeyes couldn’t make it up.
Ohio State shot 27.6% in the second half.
Taylor Mikesell Bounces Back
Saturday, the Buckeyes’ graduate senior looked a little worse for the wear and scored nine points overall. On every timeout, Mikesell needed attention from the medical staff and at one point was visibly upset going to the bench to rest.
Whatever the training staff did between Saturday afternoon and Sunday night worked. Mikesell scored 19 points in the first half on 6-for-7 shooting. Those 19 points led all players on the court.
If the Buckeyes’ season was going to end, and then Mikesell’s NCAA career as a consequence, it wasn’t going to be the guard’s fault. Mikesell had 25 points on the night, hitting seven three-point shots. A fitting end to the sharpshooter’s NCAA career.
The Buckeyes’ season is now over, so the focus shifts to the offseason. There will be questions surrounding the team, including how it will deal with the hard-to-fill spot left by a departing Mikesell. Will OSU lose any players to the transfer portal? Will McGuff get anyone from the portal himself?
It’ll be a long eight months until the Scarlet and Gray start the 2023-24 regular season.