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Ohio State women’s individual performances leading to tournament finale

How each of the Buckeyes have played over the past two days in Minneapolis, Minnesota

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 04 Ohio State vs Indiana Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ohio State women’s basketball team is on the cusp of the Big Ten Tournament championship game. At 5:00 p.m. ET, the Buckeyes face the Iowa Hawkeyes, with each side playing exciting and close games in the semifinals. Both sides have obviously swept the competition in the single-elimination tournament but how have Buckeyes players fared individually?

Here’s a recap of everyone who's seen the court for Ohio State over the past two days, beginning with the starters.

Rikki Harris

Playing the point position for the Buckeyes for all but one game since Dec. 4 is guard Rikki Harris. Although Harris hasn’t grabbed attention points-wise, the guard’s done everything for Ohio State, and in a difficult situation.

Difficult because since the end of November, the talk around the team centered on the absence of guard Jacy Sheldon. No matter how well the guard performs, the question is always “when will Sheldon return?”

Sheldon’s missed with a lower leg injury, which propelled Harris from sixth player, fill in wherever the Buckeyes need, to starting point guard. In 18 starts this season, Harris has 4.9 assists per game.

In the tournament, with Sheldon now back on the court, Harris kept the starting role with Sheldon playing limited minutes. Across the two games, Harris has seven assists, with six coming Saturday against the Indiana Hoosiers.

During that 79-75 comeback victory, Harris also brought the scoring that she’s flashed a couple times in the regular season stretch run. Harris scored 13 points on top of those six assists, but Harris’ defense is what’s shined.

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

On Saturday, the Indiana-native thrashed the Hoosiers with a high intensity full court press. Harris was key in it, leaping out of bounds to keep the ball in play, even taking a seat on the media desk after one big jump.

Taylor Mikesell

Ohio State’s 22-23 All-B1G First Team star guard Taylor Mikesell has been one of three consistent starters all season for the Buckeyes. Because of injuries to Sheldon and point guard Madison Greene, the natural shooter shifted to point guard for parts of games and became more of a facilitator.

Mikesell’s 77 assists this season, her most since her freshman year as a Maryland Terrapin, also came to fruition because of the attention she’s received. With Sheldon and Greene out, Mikesell was the lone regular shooter from deep on the roster. It continued over the past two days.

On Friday, against the Michigan Wolverines, Mikesell’s quick release allowed the guard to get up seven three-point attempts, making three. Mikesell had 16 points in the victory, leading the Buckeyes when it counted: In the fourth quarter.

The guard scored seven in the last 10 minutes of the victory over the Wolverines, the most of any Ohio State teammate to end the game. Also, Mikesell defended well, especially on the final play where the Buckeyes had to hold guard Leigha Brown and Michigan back with less than 10 seconds remaining.

Then, on Saturday, Mikesell played significantly less than Friday. After logging 37 minutes against Michigan, and averaging 35.2 minuets per game on the season, the Northeast Ohioan only played 25 minutes. According to coach McGuff, there’s no need for alarm.

“We were just kind of, yeah, managing minutes as the season gets long and this weekend now gets longer,” said McGuff. “Just to try to give her a little more rest.”

While the Mikesell is crucial to the Buckeyes, having her on the bench makes other teams adjust. Opposing teams, like the Hoosiers and guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, had a sole focus on defense to put a hand in Mikesell’s face, with or without the ball.

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

On the other side of the argument, having Mikesell on the court also creates space for other players, with her receiving the occasional double-team. It’ll be interesting to see how much time Mikesell gets in Sunday’s final.

Taylor Thierry

The work of sophomore guard/forward Taylor Thierry cannot be ignored. Part of the group of three that started every game this season, Thierry isn’t simply a complimentary player to Mikesell and forward Cotie McMahon, but she’s a star herself.

After starting no games last season, her name is in the starting roster in permanent ink. On Saturday, against Michigan, Thierry had 20 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and didn’t turn the ball over once.

Thierry’s made a season out of high percentage shooting, receiving passes in the paint and creating her own chances. Versus the Wolverines it was 72% from the floor. While it dipped slightly on Saturday, across the entire team, really, Thierry recovered individually like the Buckeyes did as a team.

“You really got to see her versatility. She can score in a variety of ways,” said McGuff. “For a stretch there, we played much smaller without Rebeka (Mikulášiková) or Eboni (Walker), which basically Taylor was the five. She’s driving the ball and calling people to help and getting rid of it.”

The Cleveland, Ohio native scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, her second double-double of the season. In the second half, Thierry and McMahon each had eight rebounds in the 24-point comeback victory.

Also, Thierry was the only Buckeye in the tournament to have no turnovers. That’s across 77 minutes on the court. An incredible performance.

Cotie McMahon

It’s difficult to do in a tournament featuring Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, but McMahon has been the best player of the tournament.

Across two games, the B1G Freshman of the Year has 40 points and 26 rebounds. Also, McMahon had an important duty against Indiana on Saturday: Guarding forward Mackenzie Holmes.

Without any time to practice the strategy, McMahon’s athleticism and court awareness put her between Hoosiers passers and Holmes. Instead of trying to get between Holmes and the basket, the Buckeyes wanted to stop Holmes from getting the ball altogether.

Of McMahon’s three steals against the Hoosiers, two of them came from that position, jumping up to not allow Holmes any space to catch the pass. Holmes had her lowest scoring total of the season, scoring 12 points on 42% shooting.

Offensively, McMahon did what she’s done for the latter half of the season when she went at the basket with intensity. In the third quarter against the Wolverines, the Buckeyes extended their lead to eight points. Michigan went on a scoring run though and tied the game. Stopping that run was McMahon.

On two straight possessions, McMahon went to the rim, scoring five points. The first ended with McMahon falling to the court for the three-point play from the free throw line. The second featured McMahon spinning between two Wolverines to bank a layup off the backboard.

Against Indiana, McMahon showed the same ability in the final quarter, this time also putting her body on the line.

An impressive move that’s become common place for people who watch the Buckeyes with consistency.

“She’s also got a real joy for the game,” said McGuff. “You can see she loves to play. She loves to play with her teammates. Just a great kid to coach.”

Eboni Walker

Although Walker has started each of the two games this tournament, and likely a third on Sunday, the transfer from Syracuse’s impact has been limited. Across the two games, Walker played 32 minutes with six points and seven rebounds.

Walker played limited minutes throughout the season but moved to the starting role after forward Rebeka Mikulášiková went down with a high ankle sprain in the first quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Feb. 8. Since then, the forward’s play consistently but with Mikulášiková sidelined, the Slovakian’s three-point range has been missed for the Buckeyes.

Sunday, Walker will be important with Iowa forward Monika Czinano on the court but like Saturday, expect the game moments to dictate the strategy and players used by McGuff. Coach McGuff has shown that if something isn’t working, he’ll be quick to stop and change it.

Jacy Sheldon

Sheldon hasn’t started since coming back for the Big Ten Tournament, but she’s in a form that reminds Buckeye fans of the start of the season.

The guard has 29 minutes over two games, and Sheldon’s led the Buckeyes with a +10 against the Wolverines and +20 against the Hoosiers. When the guard is on the court, good things happen.

That’s because with Sheldon on the court there are multiple positives for Ohio State. The press is the most obvious one. Sheldon led the Buckeyes on Saturday with four steals in only 16 minutes on the court. The guard has the timing to grab at the ball when the opponent has possession and will dive to the court when the ball goes loose.

Less obvious is her leadership on the court. In the first half of Saturday’s 24-point comeback, coach McGuff needed to use timeouts early. So, late in the game, there were less to use as the game went down to the wire. No worry, because Sheldon was on the court.

When the guard is playing, the veteran experience at the point guard position means there’s someone teammates listen to and who can organize McGuff’s strategy on the court. It’s been a long three months for Buckeye fans and Sheldon.

“I’m feeling great. It feels great to be back,” said Sheldon. “We have a really tight-knit group, so it’s fun being out there and being back.”

Following the semifinals, McGuff said that those minutes will continue, unless the trainer says anything following the game.

Rebeka Mikulášiková

Still playing from the bench, Mikulášiková has 10 points in 35 combined minutes. Against Indiana though, six of those points were important in a game that Ohio State needed every shot they could get.

In the first half against Indiana, Mikulášiková broke a 12-shot streak of Buckeye misses from deep with a three-pointer.

On Sunday, Ohio State will need Mikulášiková to hit more of those threes, like she did last year in Iowa City, Iowa. In front of a rowdy away crowd, the Slovakian senior went 5-for-6 from three-point range in a 92-88 Buckeyes win.

A good sign for Ohio State is that Mikulášiková has been open thanks to movement from her teammates. Should the forward hit an early three-point shot or two, it could make the championship game interesting.

Emma Shumate

The final player on the list of Buckeyes who have seen court time is transfer guard Emma Shumate, who’s played an interesting role for Ohio State.

Shumate has played 36 minutes and scored three points, but the Newark, Ohio guard sees court time because of her defensive ability. On Sunday, Shumate had three blocks against the Hoosiers.

With a longer wingspan, Shumate has the ability, and timing, to make it tough on players attempting layups in the paint. Even though she averages 11.5 minutes per game, Shumate leads all Buckeyes with 27 blocks on the season. If she played enough time to qualify for statistics leaderboards, Shumate would be 10th best in the conference.

McGuff opted for Shumate Saturday because Mikulášiková had four fouls, and offensively wasn’t hitting shots regularly. With Shumate as an option, her speed and defensive ability gives the Buckeyes a faster team on the court, which is key especially when the full court press is on.