After a historic victory for Ohio State women’s basketball Sunday, head coach Kevin McGuff’s side headed to Champaign, Illinois. The task was defeating the Illinois Fighting Illini, a team struggling for results a year after surprising the Big Ten on its way to the first NCAA Tournament birth in 20 years.
Like last season though, the Buckeyes overcame a double-digit Fighting Illini deficit. Instead of 17 points, it was 11, beating Illinois 67-59 to increase Ohio State’s winning streak to six games.
Before the game, things were already off for the Buckeyes who had to travel to Illinois the day of the game, due to inclement weather. At first, Ohio State looked well rested.
Forward Cotie McMahon, who scored 33 points and won multiple Player of the Week honors for her work, continued that work from the jump ball. After both sides struggled to get going offensively, McMahon scored the first five points for Ohio State. Starting oddly enough with a three-point shot, after entering the game shooting 22.2% from deep.
It didn’t take long for guard Jacy Sheldon to join in the scoring, grabbing the next seven points. The Illini, who entered the day second in the Big Ten in fewest turnovers allowed, gave away the ball four times in the first eight minutes of the game, and Ohio State capitalized.
By the end of the first quarter, it was 18-13 in the Buckeyes’ favor. For how well forward Kendall Bostic’s played against Ohio State in three career games (averaging 16.6 points and 15.6 rebounds), the forward had seven rebounds in the first 10 minutes, but took and made only one shot.
Part of the limited scoring was bench forward Taiyier Parks. The former Michigan State Spartan teammate, playing one year with Bostic, gave the Buckeyes physicality in the paint, not letting Bostic take over offensively.
With 15 minutes played in the first half, Ohio State lost its lead due to self-inflicted mistakes. The Buckeyes forced turnovers early, and built a six point lead, but gave the ball away eight times. The Fighting Illini responded, topping Ohio State 9-to-2 in points scored off turnovers.
The media timeout was well timed for the scarlet and gray, giving them time to regroup. However, Illinois’ run couldn’t be stopped. The Fighting Illini went on a 14-point run, increasing its lead to nine points with the Buckeyes making its first shot of the quarter and then missing its next seven attempts from the floor.
Overall, the second quarter was historically bad for Ohio State on offense. Coach McGuff’s side scored only four points, the fewest amount of points the Buckeyes have scored in a quarter in program history.
Because of that 2-for-9 shooting performance, and Illinois hitting its last five shots of the half, the Buckeyes went into halftime down 22-33.
Rebounding played a part. In the first quarter, the Buckeyes and Illini each grabbed nine but the second quarter, Illinois surged ahead. Ohio State grabbed four, compared to 13 for the home team. By halftime, Bostic already had 12 rebounds, one less than the scarlet and gray to that point.
In a minute and a half, Sheldon already beat the entire second quarter team scoring. The guard hit double digit scoring on the night, hitting the first two shots for Ohio State in the quarter, cutting Illinois’ lead to six points. The Illinois lead continued to shrink.
Ohio State cut the Illinois lead to one, thanks improved shooting and a nine-point run, featuring five turnovers by the Fighting Illini. Guard Celeste Taylor, who was quiet in the first half, came up big, alongside Sheldon. The pair of graduate seniors scored 12 of the Buckeyes 16 points to trim the deficit to one possession.
The momentum wouldn’t last, and the nine-point turn swung into a quick four points from the home side. Down five points, Coach McGuff called a timeout to try and regroup to avoid the deficit increasing.
Out of the timeout, with Illinois in the bonus, the end of the third quarter slowed down. The Fighting Illini went 2-for-4 to end the quarter from the free throw line. Compared to 4-for-4 from the line for the Buckeyes. It trimmed Illinois’ 11-point lead to start the quarter down to three with 10 minutes remaining.
Starting the fourth quarter, Illinois looked to have figured out how to get through the Buckeyes’ press, scoring two quick baskets on the fast break. However, Taylor turned on the offense. The guard hit a three-point shot, then grabbed a steal and ultimately hit a midrange jumper on the possession she earned. That tied the game at 49-49.
The Fighting Illini had the chance tot score again, finding a fast break opportunity for guard Camille Hobby. but the NC State transfer missed the open opportunity. McMahon didn’t miss. The sophomore put Ohio State back into the lead, the first time since 7:43 remaining in the first half.
That lead grew.
Ohio State went on a 12-point run, featuring five points by McMahon and the aforementioned Taylor. It gave the visiting Buckeyes a seven-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
Illinois came out of a timeout with guard Makira Cook hitting a three-point shot. It started back and forth baskets for each side. With 2:10 remaining, guard Adalia McKenzie collided with Taylor. That foul put Ohio State in the bonus, with the chance to ice the victory. McMahon hit one of two, increasing the lead to five points.
Sheldon followed it up with a layup, putting Ohio State up seven points. The lead stayed with the Buckeyes, who took the 67-59 victory out of Champaign.
That layup was two of Sheldon’s game-leading 25 points on the evening. McMahon played strong behind the graduate senior guard, hitting a second-straight double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
On the Illinois side, Bostic continued her impressive games against Ohio State, all in defeat, grabbing 18 rebounds on 11 points. Cook led the way for Illinois with 16 points and five assists.
Press Makes Triumphant Return
Following three games where the Buckeyes lacked an efficient press, it was that havoc-inducing defense that put Ohio State back into the game. Following the historically poor second quarter of only four points scored, the scarlet and gray played with renewed defensive intensity.
Coach McGuff’s side had a +9 turnover margin in the second half, forcing 15 turnovers and giving the ball away only six times. Those 15 second half turnovers were already more than Illinois’ average of 11.4 turnovers per game entering Thursday. Overall, Ohio State forced 20 against the Fighting Illini.
Mikulášiková Personal Record
Although the Slovakian big scored only two points in the win, Rebeka Mikulášiková had a record-setting day in assists. The forward had six, eclipsing her previous high of five assists she achieved against the Belmont Bruins and Iowa Hawkeyes.
The passing gives the number-five for Ohio State more ways to help on the court. Especially when shots weren’t falling for Mikulášiková, as they weren’t on Thursday.
Like in turnovers, the game was a tale of two halves on the boards too. After having a -9 rebounding margin in the first half (13 to 22), the Buckeyes out rebounded the Illinis 21-20 in the second half.
Leading the way in the final 20 minutes were Sheldon and McMahon, stretching their impact beyond scoring baskets.
Ohio State returns home to Columbus, but not for long. Sunday, the scarlet and gray play at the Purdue Boilermakers, in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Purdue welcomes the Buckeye on the back of a five-game losing streak. Featuring defeats to the Iowa Hawkeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions and Indiana Hoosiers. Ohio State ends arguably the toughest stretch for the Boilermakers this season.
That game tips at 2 p.m. ET on B1G+.