Friday night, Ohio State women’s basketball was back on the court, this time in Evanston, Illinois against the Northwestern Wildcats. The Buckeyes entered the game with a 1-1 conference record, falling to the Michigan Wolverines six days ago. A return to play for Ohio State wasn’t made much easier with the absence of a starter.
Regardless of an injury-induced lineup shift, the Buckeyes came away with the victory. Ohio State defeated Northwestern 90-60 to get back over .500 in the Big Ten conference standings.
The headline injury for the Buckeyes was the availability of forward Rebeka Mikulášiková. The Slovakian forward went from questionable leading into the game to wearing street clothes in the Welsh-Ryan Arena, putting the scarlet and gray down its starting forward.
In Mikulášiková’s starting place for head coach Kevin McGuff was forward Eboni Walker. The forward who started 11 games for the Buckeyes to finish last season recently made the leap from a third-string forward to the starting lineup.
From the jump, the Buckeyes looked like a refreshed team. Ohio State forced an early timeout for the Wildcats, going up 6-0 thanks to the defense forcing two turnovers and strong rebounding. Walker and guard/forward hybrid Taylor Thierry especially made early missed shots second chances for the visiting Buckeyes.
Northwestern answered back with dangerous three-point shooting. The first four shots by the Wildcats were all from deep and all converted. Leading in the department in the first quarter was forward Caileigh Walsh. The 6-foot-3 forward who averages 1.1 three-point makes over game hit two to cut down the early 8-0 advantage for the Buckeyes.
With 2:40 remaining in the first quarter, a 6-for-6 shooting streak for Northwestern put the home side in the lead before the Buckeyes could adjust. After the first quarter, it was a narrow 20-19 Ohio State lead.
Those open looks for the Wildcats disappeared to start the second quarter. Halfway through the quarter, a suffocating defensive pressure with half court defense already forced seven turnovers. On the other side of the court, Ohio State outscored Northwestern 14-6 through the outstanding interior play by Thierry, who had eight of the Buckeyes’ points.
The Wildcats came out of the media timeout hitting a three-pointer, its fifth of the game. That brought the game back to within 10 points but guards Jacy Sheldon and Rikki Harris made up for it. Both responded with threes of their own. The Buckeyes scored 11 of the last 14 points of the quarter, taking a 42-28 lead into halftime.
While both Ohio State’s overall three-point shooting struggled, going 3-for-9 in the first half, and rebounding, 16-21 in the Wildcats’ favor, defense and responsible ball handling was the difference maker. The Buckeyes had a +12 turnover margin, giving the ball away only three times in the first half compared to forcing 15 from Northwestern.
Out of the locker room, the Wildcats capitalized quickly, showing that first quarter energy that made the start of the game close. It wouldn’t last long. After outscoring the Buckeyes 7-3 to start the second half, Ohio State responded with a nine-point run. In the jump to a 19-point lead, twice the full court press gave the scarlet and gray possession in the backcourt.
The first was off a Northwestern defensive rebound. Closing in was Thierry who picked up her 30th steal of the season. That steal turned into two free throws by Sheldon. Then it was Taylor grabbing a steal and finishing with a layup, one of the easier plays for the guard on the night after suffering three big falls up to that moment. Each time, Taylor got up and kept going.
As the quarter continued, it was clear that the Buckeyes wore the Wildcats down, increasing their lead to 21 points. In the process, Walsh, who led Northwestern with 14 points through three quarters, picked up four fouls and had to go to the bench to avoid fouling out. That made an already uphill climb like scaling a cliff.
Coach McGuff saw the lead as a chance to give his guard duo of Sheldon and Taylor rest, sitting out for the remaining three minutes of the quarter. The two returned for the fourth quarter but it didn’t seem necessary.
The Buckeyes kept going strong into the fourth. Ohio State extended its lead to 25 points with four points by Sheldon and another two by Walker who scored double-digits for the Buckeyes on the night.
Joining Walker in the double-digit club was Taylor. For the third straight game, her strongest offensive stretch for the Buckeyes, the graduate senior hit the 15-point mark. It was another game showing improved offensive game for the guard known well for defense.
Starters began the fourth quarter on the court, including McMahon who responded well to starting the game shooting 1-for-7 with 2-for-4 shooting. That ended the sophomore’s streak of four games without hitting 10 points. She was the final starter to hit the 10-point mark on the night.
For the last five minutes, McGuff leveraged his bench and the Buckeyes closed out the victory, defeating the Wildcats 90-60.
Walker, filling in for Mikulášiková, led Ohio State with six rebounds (three on offense), plus 11-points of offense. Sheldon led the way for all on the night though, scoring 18 points.
Ohio State is off for its second consecutive six-day break. The Buckeyes welcome the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to the Schottenstein Center Thursday, at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Before the scarlet and gray and purple of Northwestern tipped off Friday, Rutgers had a visit from guard Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes. It wasn’t a nice one for the home team either. The Scarlet Knights fell 103-69, dropping Rutgers’ record to 6-11.