The Ohio State women’s basketball team hasn’t been home in a while, last playing at the Schottenstein Center on Dec. 22. Thursday night, the scarlet and gray were back, taking on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a game that featured roster questions for both teams, plus a new one for the Buckeyes before tipoff.
Of those questions, the absence for Rutgers guard Kaylene Smikle loomed the largest. The 22-23 Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection, and leading Scarlet Knights scorer, continued her time off the court after leaving a game against Northwestern on Dec. 30 where she played five minutes. With Smikle out, Ohio State capitalized, defeating Rutgers 90-55.
On Ohio State’s side of the scorer’s table, sixth player and redshirt senior guard Rikki Harris showed up on the injury report for the first time this season. Harris was listed as questionable, but during warmups Harris took a limited role on the court and didn’t see any minutes on the court.
In the starting lineup, forward Rebeka Mikulášiková returned after missing Friday’s game against the Northwestern Wildcats due to illness. That meant forward Eboni Walker, who scored 11, grabbed six rebounds and created six assists went back to the bench.
From the jump, the Buckeyes were not giving signs that a down Rutgers squad would get a dialed down performance. Ohio State hits its first three shots, including a corner three-point shot from Mikulášiková to get the Slovakian forward back into game rhythm following the illness. Rutgers needed a timeout quickly,. down 10-2 with less than three minutes played in the first quarter.
Rutgers, who started the game giving the Buckeyes room to move on offense switched to a full court press, but it didn’t help much. A piece working for the Scarlet Knights though was forward Destiny Adams. The former North Carolina Tar Heel, who played 16 minutes for the ACC side against the Buckeyes in the Second Round of 2023’s NCAA Tournament, scored seven of the first 10 points for the visitors.
The strong individual performance wasn’t enough to keep the game close in the first quarter, due to strong deep shooting from Ohio State. In the first ten minutes, four different Buckeyes hit a shot from beyond the arc, going 5-for-7 to start the game.
That trend continued into the second quarter. Adams began the second quarter like she did the first, with a basket, but then it was all Buckeyes. Also like the first quarter, Ohio State responded to that basket with a 10-point run. As the minutes left in the game went down, the lead for the scarlet and gray increased.
A moment that summarized the first half perfectly came late in the second quarter. Rutgers freshman guard Jillian Huerter dribbled the ball up court and passed to Adams. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, Adams didn’t see the pass coming and it hit off the forward’s shoulder. The turnover at center court went the Buckeyes’ way, with guard Diana Collins hitting a layup on the end of the play.
What the first half gave Ohio State was rest for starters. Outside of guards Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor playing 17 and 15 minutes respectively, no Ohio State starter had more than 12 minutes in the first two quarters.
The Buckeyes carried a 29-point lead into halftime. In those 51 first half points for the home side, all 10 Ohio State players who saw time on the court made a shot, with six hitting a shot from three-point range.
To try and cut down the scarlet and gray lead, the Scarlet Knights came out of the halftime locker room looking to play physical. At first, it worked. The visitors outscored the home side 6-2, but fouls piled up quickly. With 6:38 left in the third quarter, Ohio State was already in the bonus.
It gave Ohio State six of its 23 points in the quarter from the free throw line. Even with the increasing lead, up to as much as 36 points, Coach McGuff kept his starters in for much of the quarter. Heading into the fourth, the Buckeyes were up 33 points.
Sheldon stood out in her 25 minutes more than any Ohio State starter. The point guard grabbed eight steals, her single game high for the season. It was three shy of the program-tying record that Sheldon hit last season against the Boston College Eagles. Those steals almost gave her a double-double, adding 11 points in the scoring column.
Leading the starting five in scoring was Taylor. For the third game in a row, the graduate senior was more confident in her first year in the Buckeyes’ system.
For the fourth quarter, guard Madison Greene, who led the Buckeyes in three-point shooting going four-for-six, and 16 points overall, led Ohio State on the court to its second-straight victory. Coach McGuff’s side carries the 90-55 win into the first of three games, taking on stiffer Big Ten competition in the form of the Michigan State Spartans, Maryland Terrapins and Iowa Hawkeyes.
Ohio State is back at home next, welcoming the Michigan State Spartans to the Schottenstein Center. The matchup comes with a full list of storylines with first year Big Ten head coach Robyn Fralick and her first year Spartans side playing its first game in 2024.
Coach McGuff knows Fralick well, after the former Bowling Green Falcons head coach recruited McGuff’s daughter Keiryn McGuff. Soon after McGuff’s commitment, Fralick took the position left vacant by 16-year Michgian State coach Suzy Merchant who resigned from her position following two-straight seasons without a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s also a reunion for Buckeyes’ Parks who transferred south to Columbus following four years as a Spartan.
Overall, it’s also a competitive looking game. Michigan State is 11-3 to start the season, and took the Iowa Hawkeyes to the final possession on Jan. 2, losing 76-73 against the defending Big Ten Tournament champions.