Sunday, the Ohio State women’s basketball team had one final task before the NCAA Tournament tips off with the First Four playing on March 15 and 16: The Big Ten Tournament title game. On the opposing bench were the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team who beat the Buckeyes on Jan. 23.
For the second time this season, the Hawkeyes were too much for the Buckeyes to take, losing the tournament title game 105-72. The loss is the second in a row in tournament title games for the Scarlet and Gray.
The game began like the last two, with coach Kevin McGuff opting to start guard Rikki Harris and forward Eboni Walker over previous starters returning from injury in guard Jacy Sheldon and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková.
From the tip, it was a hectic start, with both teams missing their first three attempts from the field, and Iowa committing three turnovers in each of their offensive possessions. Ohio State had shots, but Walker and Harris started slow, going 0-for-6 to start. Other Buckeyes got buckets though in guards Taylor Mikesell and Taylor Thierry.
Mikesell hit her first two shots from the field and Thierry hit a three to keep the Buckeyes in the game with Iowa getting 10 points on the board in the first five minutes.
The shooting woes from Saturday’s first-half 24-point comeback against the Hoosiers was evident again on Sunday. Ohio State could only muster nine points in the first quarter, compared to 22 points from the Hawkeyes.
Iowa went on a 16-point run with the Buckeyes going only 4-for-18 in the first 10 minutes. There was already a 17-point hole for Ohio State to attempt to crawl out of going into the second quarter, but it’d get worse.
Within a minute and a half into the second quarter, the deficit went up to 23 thanks to a 28-4 run from the Hawkeyes. The only four points came from Thierry, with fouls racking up in the process. At the 8:37 mark in the second quarter, the Buckeyes had five fouls go against them compared to two for the Hawkeyes.
A tough foul was called on Harris, leading to a Buckeyes timeout. After a missed Iowa shot, forward Sydney Affolter fell while trying to get a layup, which was a mysterious whistle against Harris who was next to the Iowa player. Iowa had six first-half fouls compared to 13 for Ohio State.
Regardless of the calls, when the Buckeyes had the ball they couldn’t get it into the basket. Second-quarter shooting improved, but slightly. Instead of their 22.2% first-quarter efficiency, it was up to 29.4%. For Iowa, they followed up their 83.3% first-quarter shooting with a 64.7% second quarter.
At halftime, Ohio State was down 61-24, with Iowa’s Clark scoring 23 points by herself, almost matching the Buckeyes first half total.
Coming out of the halftime locker room, the Buckeyes played better and with more intensity. Ohio State scored eight of the first 10 points of the quarter. It included a full-court press and changing how they defend the Hawkeyes in the half-court, putting two on center Monika Czinano, who had 17 points in the first half.
The Buckeyes cut their 37-point deficit down to 30 points, but at every turn, Clark was there to try and take the air out of the Buckeyes. When the Scarlet and Gray got it within 30, Clark hit a long three.
With over seven minutes of the third quarter gone, Ohio State cut only four points off their deficit. Along the way, after five third-quarter fouls for the Buckeyes, Harris earned her third and fourth fouls, and a trip to the bench to avoid fouling out with an entire quarter remaining.
Going into the fourth quarter, Ohio State got to within 30 points, down 29 with Iowa guard Kate Martin hitting a floating layup at the buzzer after Mikesell hit a three-point shot from between the center court logo and three-point line.
In the fourth quarter, there were some high emotions on both sides. From the Iowa side, it was Clark. After anything doesn’t go the superstar’s way, she will let people know. After two fouls were called in which she held down Mikesell on a layup and hit Thierry across the back of the head on a layup, her and McMahon had a run-in.
After the freshman hit a layup under the basket, with Clark hitting her hand on the way up, Clark stood up to McMahon, pushing herself against the forward. The frustration of the day got the best of McMahon and she turned around quickly and made contact. Clark made the most of the contact and went to the floor.
The referees gave McMahon a technical for an intentional foul on the play, but the damage was far beyond done.
No matter what the Buckeyes did, the first half was too much to overcome in front of the Big Ten record crowd of 9,505, beating the previous Women’s Tournament record of 9,417, set in 2004. Ohio State falls to Iowa 105-72.
Mikesell Gives All
In the guard’s final Big Ten Tournament, Mikesell kept shooting despite the deficit. The guard led Ohio State with 24 points on the day. Many of those came from three-point range.
Mikesell shot 60% from the field from deep, with some coming three-to-five feet back from the three-point line. An admirable performance despite the uphill climb.
Making the loss more difficult are the open looks Ohio State had throughout the game. The Iowa defense wasn’t doing anything particularly different or above average, but when Ohio State had the ball in their hands the balls mostly went off the rim.
It was difficult for Coach McGuff to make too many changes, personnel-wise, with all the fouls. Guard Hevynne Bristow, who brings additional rebounding help, came in but picked up three fouls in only two minutes, going to the bench till the third quarter.
Mikulášiková received minutes but couldn’t convert her shots. Guard Emma Shumate, who came in on the last two games for defensive help had moments guarding Clark but also had trouble shooting.
Now Ohio State lays in waiting for March 12 at 8 p.m. ET. That’s when ESPN airs the NCAA selection show, publishing the seeding and locations for the NCAA Tournament.
The Buckeyes are likely going to host the first two rounds of the tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State was No. 12 in the last NCAA committee top-16 release. That's an early sign of who will be a one through four seed in March Madness.
That means it will be a couple of weeks until the Buckeyes can wipe the taste of Sunday’s defeat from their mouths.