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Big Ten Tournament final notes: Ohio State women finish second, aiming for Big Dance

It wasn’t all bad for the Buckeyes in Minneapolis on Sunday

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship - Ohio State vs. Iowa Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State women’s basketball team made it to the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament over the weekend. While the final score isn’t what the Buckeyes hoped, falling 105-72 to the Iowa Hawkeyes, there are positives to take from the tournament.

Here are notes from the Scarlet and Gray’s three days in Minnesota.

Sunday Was Bad

Getting the obvious out of the way: The championship game was bad. For half the game, at least. Ohio State forced turnovers on Iowa’s first three possessions, but didn’t hit any of their first three shots, ultimately going 4-for-18 in the first quarter. Combine that with the Hawkeyes’ offense taking shape and it got ugly quickly.

With misses plaguing the Buckeyes in the first half, they couldn’t effectively run their full-court defense and it wasn’t Iowa playing great defense either. It was bad shooting leading to a dip in overall morale, and the defense followed.

Head coach Kevin McGuff’s side has the ability to come back from deficits, anyone arguing that should check out Saturday’s second half against the Indiana Hoosiers, but being down 37 points to a veteran Iowa team likely doesn’t get a comeback win in 99 out of 100 times.

In the second half though, Ohio State played better, showing the side they can be when shots hit.

“It’s like I’m not putting anybody out there in the second half unless you’re competing at a high level, whether you’re making a shot, missing a shot, whether you’re making mistakes or whatever, but just competing at the highest level,” said McGuff. “That’s all the second half was going to be about for me.”

Ohio State outscored Iowa 48-44 in the second half, 30-22 alone in the third quarter when the Hawkeyes starters were still playing.

Finding Motivation

For the difficulties of Sunday, the best Ohio State can do is learn from it. Digging into a double-digit deficit, each halftime of Saturday and Sunday down at least 20 points, isn’t a sustainable way to compete.

At the end of the season, the Buckeyes showed they can compete for 40 minutes with a win against the Michigan Wolverines on Feb. 20 and going blow-for-blow with the Maryland Terrapins to end the regular season, falling just short.

“We know what we’ve got to work on, so we’ve got two weeks of practice,” said freshman forward Cotie McMahon following Sunday’s defeat. “Buckle down, take care of what we need to take care of, and be ready to come out and play our game.”

From the outside looking in, it’s the mentality to continue with what the team knows is right, despite poor shooting or a poor defensive possession. Also, how the team reacts to fouls.

For Iowa, and guard Caitlin Clark especially, fouls turned into moments of offensive attack. When Ohio State picked up fouls, agree with them or not, it got the Buckeyes down. In the first half, the Buckeyes out-fouled the Hawkeyes 13-6, evening out somewhat to 24 and 19 fouls by the final buzzer.

“We had a hard time getting a rhythm because of the foul trouble. That’s part of the game,” said McGuff. “Like I said, ultimately didn’t have any bearing on the final outcome, but just hard for us to get in a rhythm.”

A Contentious Moment

There’s one foul specifically that sticks out in the final quarter, featuring two stars of the tournament weekend in McMahon and Clark. With 4:46 remaining, McMahon missed a jumper, picked up the offensive rebound, and put away the second chance shot.

Following the shot, with Clark standing up against McMahon from behind, McMahon turned around quickly, making contact with Clark. The Iowa star played the moment up well, throwing her feet out from under her to go to the court.

Flop or not, the foul was warranted for McMahon who made contact with the guard. After the game, the freshman addressed the moment.

“How do I put this? I’d say — you know, I wasn’t getting some of the calls that I wanted, and I feel like I got to a point where I was extremely frustrated, and I kind of just let myself go,” said McMahon. “You know, it happens to the best of us.”

Even with that moment, McMahon had a weekend worth celebrating.

Underclassmen Excel

Following the victory, the Big Ten announced the 2023 All-Tournament Team. The Buckeyes were well-represented.

Sophomore guard/forward Taylor Thierry and McMahon were fantastic over the three games for the Scarlet & Gray. Here were their averages across the tournament:

Cotie McMahon

21 points
11 rebounds
3.3 assists
2.6 steals

Taylor Thierry

17.3 points
7.3 rebounds
2.3 assists
2.3 steals

These numbers are not only fantastic for two underclassmen, but any player in the tournament would like to have a stat line like the duo of Buckeyes.

Saturday’s game was the most impressive, with each having a double-double, but even Sunday was a solid performance. McMahon had 23 points in the victory, garnering some consideration for Player of the Tournament if the Buckeyes competed for four quarters.

For Thierry, the sophomore had 13 points on Sunday and one turnover. That turnover is important because it was the only giveaway Thierry had in all three games. Just one.

McMahon and Thierry are the only underclassmen on the All-Tournament Team this year, with Clark the only other non-senior on the list. The future is bright for the future of the Ohio State program with Thierry and McMahon leading the way.

Taylor Mikesell Ends Big Ten Career

While there’s still at least one more game left for Ohio State this season, guard Taylor Mikesell left nothing on the court in the fifth-year player’s career. In the second half, Mikesell had 17 of her 24 team-leading points.

Playing all but three second-half minutes at the end of the fourth quarter, Mikesell was the living example of the fight McGuff wanted in the second half. Although he said that he wanted people who would battle through both makes and misses, Mikesell was hitting.

The second-year Buckeye transfer went 5-for-8 from three-point range in the second half. Although it was all for naught in the end, the hardworking Mikesell is someone that the Buckeyes will miss when the season concludes in the coming weeks.

When asked about that last Big Ten game, Mikesell wasn’t interested in reflection.

“I would have liked to have won, but we have a lot more to play,” said Mikesell. “So look forward to the NCAA Tournament.”

Big Ten History

Ohio State and Iowa each made history in their semifinal and final victories but overall, the conference has a lot to be happy about with the weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The 9,505 fans in attendance, mostly in black and yellow because of the just under five-hour drive from Iowa City, Iowa, was a record for any previous Big Ten Women’s Tournament, beating the 2004 final.

It’s also the second straight season that the tournament was the most watched edition on Big Ten Network, which aired all the games until ESPN took over the finale. It’s a testament to the growth of women’s basketball and the transformation of the Big Ten as a whole.

“I think Big Ten women’s basketball is really going in an incredible direction,” said McGuff. “One of the things that’s really consistent about our league at the top is we’ve got teams that can really score the ball, and I think as a conference that kind of separates us. Vastly different when I first got here, most teams kind of walk it up, grind it out, and now the offenses have really evolved.”