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Eboni Walker’s playmaking is reason enough for her return to Ohio State’s starting lineup

As defenses adjust to the Buckeyes, Walker could be the key to breaking through

Belmont v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Ohio State women’s basketball is known for its blistering defensive press. The team features three people who are averaging at least two steals a game and lead the conference with 11.14 steals per game. Points off turnovers alone don’t win games, and lately, the half-court offense of the Buckeyes is stalling. However, on Friday, forward Eboni Walker made her case for helping the team break through.

For two seasons, the three-point line’s been a friend of the scarlet and gray. Former shooting guard Taylor Mikesell forced man coverage to not give any space around the arc, with spectacular three-point shooting. This season, the first with Mikesell in the professional ranks, deep shooting isn’t as potent and defenses are adjusting.

Against the Michigan Wolverines on Dec. 30, the maize and blue didn’t let anything come into the paint, playing a zone with each corner of the key neutralized; making life difficult for a player like forward Cotie McMahon who makes a living going to the basket. The sophomore has averaged 5.8 points per game in the last five games as teams are challenging Ohio State to shoot from three, compared to 16.9 points in the first nine games of the 23-24 campaign.

Friday, Walker showed a way around it.

“She (Walker) played hard,” said head coach Kevin McGuff following the 90-60 win over the Northwestern Wildcats. She moved the ball, she had six assists and so them playing a lot of zone kind of played through her and she kept the ball moving.”

Against the Wildcats, Walker started due to illness to forward Rebeka Mikulášiková. In the victory, the shorter but more agile Walker was everywhere for the Buckeyes. Whether it was grabbing rebounds, taking midrange shots near the baseline, or finding open teammates, the half-court offense for coach McGuff’s side looked revitalized.

“She’s hard to keep up with for the other teams post players,” said McGuff. “The other thing that we did tonight that we can do with her at the five is we trapped the ball screens and that gives us an element, something different we can do, that we can’t really do with Rebeka or Taiyier (Parks).”

That means fewer chances for teams to switch a slower defender onto a quicker offensive talent. It gives the scarlet and gray a different look that’s working with how teams are playing them right now, thanks to someone who isn’t a new commodity for the Buckeyes.

Last season, Walker’s first as a Buckeye following a transfer from Syracuse University, the forward spent most of the season coming in off the bench. Then, on Feb. 8, 2023, Mikulášiková left an Ohio State win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers early with an injury, opening Walker’s stint as a starter that lasted through the last 11 games of the season.

However, this season, Walker went back to a bench role and fell further down the depth chart. The transfer of Parks in the offseason from the Michigan State Spartans gave McGuff a tall, physical, forward who gives the Buckeyes more of a presence in the paint.

Parks’ addition gave Ohio State a trio of vastly different forwards to leverage. Mikulášiková is the European big who’s offensive-minded and shoots from deep. Parks is the forward who will grab rebounds and back defenders under the rim. So far though, the production from both has been hit-or-miss.

Mikulášiková’s playing more minutes this season, starting all but one game, than her first year as a full-season starter in 21-22, but averaging almost a point less per game. For Parks, whose minutes are down at the start of her lone season as a Buckeye, points and rebounds are cut in almost half.

Each is important to the looks Ohio State can give opponents. If Mikulášiková’s shooting matches spells she’s had in the last season and a half, it’ll hurt the team’s abilities to crowd the paint. If Parks starts hitting shots in the paint more frequently, other teammates will get space to move or shoot.

Right now though, Walker’s play could be what the Buckeyes need. With that said, there’s no outward competition against her teammates or message of “give me my chance” from the graduate senior.

“I’m always willing to do whatever my team needs,” said Walker following Friday’s win. “So any given night I’m just ready to give whatever they want from me or whatever they need from me.”

The 11 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists performance from Walker on Friday (leading the team in rebounds and assists), earned the humble forward the Buckeyes’ “Dub Chain.”

Does it also earn Walker another start? If so, it's riding the hot hand. Against the Wolverines, Walker only played nine minutes in a 69-60 defeat. The game before that defeat, against the Belmont Bruins, Walker had seven rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes. Walker’s best performances have come when she’s played the most.

Should that cool and Mikulášiková or Parks heat up, Ohio State’s in a spot it hasn’t been in the last two years: Enough depth to support making the change.