Ohio State women’s basketball entered Sunday in a two-game winning streak. On one hand, a winning streak is great but on the other hand, the opponents weren’t near the top of the Big Ten conference. The Michigan State Spartans brought a different level of competition to the Schottenstein Center to close out the weekend.
The Buckeyes showed that the lessons from the Dec. 30 defeat to the Michigan Wolverines carried over to stiffer competition, defeating the Spartans 70-65 in an entertaining, back-and-forth game.
From the jump, the difference between the Spartans and recent opponents was clear. After both sides hit their first shots of the game, a short cold spell hit both teams, matching the single digit temperature outside of the arena. Michigan State broke it the fastest, going up four points, combining an offensive style that doesn’t take up much of the shot clock with defense that made the Buckeyes shoot deep, and miss.
What broke it for the home team was finding a flaw in the Spartans defense. Like Ohio State, Michigan State used a press to try and disrupt the movement of the Buckeyes. What the Spartans didn’t do was have anyone behind the pressing front lines.
The scarlet and gray identified the weakness and broke the early four-point run by the visitors, finding forwards Cotie McMahon, Rebeka Mikulášiková and Taylor Thierry in the process.
It brought the game back to within a possession, which was the trend for the first 10 minutes with five lead changes between the teams. Ohio State took a two-point lead into the second quarter, thanks to Jacy Sheldon and McMahon.
The two combined for 12 of Ohio State’s 20 first quarter points, and for McMahon they were more difficult to find. Anytime the forward had the ball near the paint, any green jersey within arms reach was closing in, turning defense into more of a rugby scrum. The Spartans weren’t going to allow McMahon to hurt them so easily near the basket, so McMahon added a three-point shot with the lone layup she hit running past the Michigan full court defense.
In the second quarter though, the Spartans closed up the holes. With 3-for-12 shooting to start the quarter, the Spartans capitalized, creating their highest lead of the half with five points.
Coach McGuff’s side responded with a five-point run. Key to it was guard Celeste Taylor. Out of a timeout, with under four minutes remaining in the half, Taylor got things started with a quick three-point shot.
While shooting, Michigan State guard Moira Joiner made some contact with the guard, and Taylor looked at the referees upset with the no call. Seconds later, on the defensive end of the court, Taylor got even with the Spartans star. Going up for a layup, Taylor went stride for stride with Joiner, blocking the shot, winning possession and getting fouled in the process.
However, the green and white ended the quarter strong in the paint. Bench forward Tory Ozment hit the final two shots of the quarter, both layups under the basket. Ozment’s nine points in the half gave the Spartans a 34-37 lead going into the locker room.
That lead didn’t last long, as Thierry, who was quieter in the first half due to picking up early fouls, hit a three-point shot to pull the game even on the first possession of the half. From there, Ohio State earned a lead of its own from solid half court defense. Michigan State was 2-for-10 to start the quarter, with no open looks given. The forced shots clanged off the rim and gave the Buckeyes momentum.
Offensively, the paint benefited Ohio State in more ways than one. Outside of using it for high percentage shots that gave the Buckeyes the lead, Ohio State also excelled on the boards. Through three quarters, the scarlet and gray kept up in rebounding, something not a regular occurrence.
Individually, guard Rikki Harris was a difference maker. After missing the last game due to an undisclosed injury, the redshirt senior was back in a big way. Through three quarters, the guard scored 11 points in 11 minutes, and they always seemed to come in big moments.
In the third quarter it was a three-point shot, her only shot off the quarter, stopping a Michigan State run that tied the game. Harris’ three put the Buckeyes back up, but Ozment for the Spartans continued her great form on the day.
Like the second quarter, Ozment found space in the paint and hit layups. After scoring the last five points of the quarter, and Sheldon for the Buckeyes missing a chance to score at the buzzer, the two sides were tied at 50 points apiece with 10 minutes remaining.
Those 50 points were already an accomplishment for the Ohio State defense. Michigan State entered the day averaging 89.9 points per game. After three quarters, it was clear the average was going to take a hit.
The three top scorers for the Spartans entering Sunday, Joiner, guard DeeDee Hagemann and forward Julia Ayrault combined for 45 points per game. With five minutes left in the game, the three combined for 16 points.
To start the final quarter, Ohio State had an eight-point run that looked like it could take the wind out of the Spartans. It was capped off with a steal by Taylor to Thierry who maneuvered her way into a layup and foul, missing the free throw. However, Michigan State made it a single possession game quickly. Guard Abbey Kimball hit a three-pointer, only the fourth for the Spartans on the day on 16 attempts, to that point. Then a midrange by Joiner forced a timeout by Coach McGuff with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
With two minutes remaining, the Buckeyes had a four-point lead. Even though Thierry missed three free throws in the quarter up to that point, the athletic guard/forward hybrid was making plays in the run of play. Offensively and defensively, Thierry was making moves around the basket.
On offense, Thierry hit a layup on a second chance opportunity following a McMahon miss. Defensively, she was taking up space under the rim on layup attempts that turned into missed attempts and rebound opportunities for her teammates.
The hard work put Ohio State up seven points with a minute remaining, thanks to a five-point run that helped put the game away. That win would need to come from the free throw line, with the Spartans out of timeouts with 47.2 seconds remaining. To that point though, the Buckeyes were only 8-for-16 from the line.
Ohio State went only 5-for-10 from the free throw line, but the Spartans couldn’t muster enough to come away with the win. The Buckeye come away with the 70-65 conference victory.
Sheldon and Thierry led Ohio State on the day, scoring 18 and 13 points respectively. Thierry added 11 rebounds for a double-double and Taylor’s defense made Michigan State struggle all day. The graduate senior guard had five blocks in the victory.
Following Sunday’s home game, the Buckeyes are back on the road. This time, heading to the Mid Atlantic to face the Maryland Terrapins. The Terrapins are in a period of transition this season, following losses to Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers, who both left the NCAA for the WNBA.
Even so, the Terrapins still have head coach Brenda Frese. As the season’s progressed, so has Maryland. Also, the Buckeyes haven’t done well in Maryland of late. Ohio State hasn’t beaten the Terrapins away from home since Jan. 2, 2016.