Sunday afternoon, Ohio State women’s basketball played the final conference game of the day, taking on the Michigan State Spartans. It was the last of five games on the day, with No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabbing most of the attention. Behind a quiet fourth quarter by Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the Hawkeyes suffered an upset defeat in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Buckeyes 86-71 win over the Spartans puts Ohio State alone at the top of the Big Ten standings, defeating Michigan State without usual minutes from three starters due to early foul trouble.
From the jump, it looked like the Buckeyes were facing off against themselves. Both teams employed a similar style of defensive press to try and throw the other side out of its rhythm. Early on, it was Michigan State getting the best of Ohio State.
Sparty forced two quick turnovers but offensively couldn’t capitalize. Neither side went on runs because of the pressure. Instead, each team took turns hitting shots and keeping the game close. It appeared the game would come down to who could break the press first.
Helping the Buckeyes was rebounding by sophomore Cotie McMahon. The Ohio State star had five to start the game, but headed to the bench. At first, it was because she picked up two fouls, but those two fouls turned into three, thanks to a technical assessed.
Going in for a layup, McMahon heard the whistle for a clear charging call. On the way back to the bench, the forward received a technical foul, giving her three on the day with 1:19 remaining in the first quarter. Guard Jacy Sheldon responded.
Sheldon closed the quarter out with a steal, assist and layup. It shot Ohio State’s three-point lead up to seven points. That and four shots missed to end the first quarter by the Spartans, gave the Buckeyes the seven-point advantage entering the second quarter.
The advantage grew quickly. Ohio State entered the second quarter looking like a team who practices against a press every day, scoring the first eight points of the quarter before Michigan State head coach Robyn Fralick called a timeout to regroup.
Sparty came out of the timeout deciding to go hard at the paint. With four minutes gone in the second quarter, Ohio State was out-fouling Michigan State 11-to-5. Joining McMahon on the bench with three fouls was guard/forward Taylor Thierry. Also, Sheldon had two herself but was kept in the game. The graduate senior ended a seven-point Spartans run, including three free throws.
Even so, the Buckeyes still had a 12-point lead to protect in the remaining six minutes of the half, but it would get more difficult with another foul call. This time, it was Sheldon picking up her third of the half on a clear charging foul.
Ohio State was without its three leading scorers for the last five minutes of the first half. In those situations, its expected that there’s a dip and a chance for the Spartans to get back into the game.
That's not what happened.
The Buckeyes scored 15 of the last 20 points of the quarter, missing only two shots for the remainder of the half. Leading the way was guard Celeste Taylor. Although the guard picked up her second late in the second quarter, head coach Kevin McGuff kept her in the game.
Taylor led Ohio State with 16 points, playing all 20 minutes of the first half. The graduate senior guard did it on 6-for-9 shooting, going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Those 16 points matching the guard’s season high as a Buckeye, in the Dec. 30 defeat to the Michigan Wolverines.
At halftime though, it didn’t look like another trip to Michigan would end with a loss. The Buckeyes entered halftime with a 22-point lead, 53-31. Mostly due to turnovers.
On Jan. 14, the Buckeyes forced a season low eight turnovers against the Spartans. In the first half, Ohio State forced 11. The Buckeyes’ growing lead came in part because Michigan State didn’t get off many shots.
Ohio State outshot Michigan State 16-9 in the second quarter, but the Spartans with 3-for-9 on those shots, missing all three shots attempted from beyond the arc.
To start the second half, Coach McGuff brought back his starting five, with Taylor quickly joining three of her teammates by picking up her third foul. However, the start of the half was all Ohio State.
Michigan State added three more turnovers, inching closer to its season high of 15 turnovers in a game, and continued to shoot cold. For the Buckeyes, it picked up where it left off, going on a 10-point run after the Spartans hit one free throw to start the scoring in the third quarter.
The home side fought back out of a timeout, scoring the next six points, but it was three- point shooting bringing the game back to a consistent lead near 30 points for the Buckeyes. By the end of the third quarter, the Buckeyes were 7-for-12 from three-point range.
Also, outstanding scoring from forward Rebeka Mikulášiková. The Slovakian scored eight points in the third quarter, putting her total to 19 points at the start of the fourth quarter. All of those third quarter points came inside the paint as the Spartans were giving her too much space on the other end of its press.
With 10 minutes still remaining, the Buckeyes were up 28 points, with 27 points coming off a Spartans season-high 16 turnovers. Ohio State’s rout continued.
McMahon and Thierry got the scoring started with a midrange jumper and three-point shot. It gave the scarlet and gray a 33-point lead.
Entering the game with four minutes remaining was former Michigan State Spartans forward Taiyier Parks. The graduate forward had her moment to play in her old home arena, finishing the game out for Ohio State.
There was no miracle comeback in East Lansing. The Buckeyes hold on to win 86-71, with a scoreline that made the game look much closer.
Taylor and Mikulášiková led things for the Buckeyes, in the scoring department. The Duke transfer scored 20, eclipsing her previous high of 16 points as a member of the scarlet and gray. Mikulášiková was right behind Taylor with 10 points. Also, despite playing only 19 minutes, McMahon still grabbed seven rebounds to lead Ohio State on the boards.
Following Ohio State’s win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday, the coveted “Dub Chain,” given to a player who stood out in an Ohio State victory, went to the entire team because of a 23-assist game.
On Sunday, the Buckeyes had 28. Only six baskets made in the run of play didn’t come off an Ohio State assist. Of the 10 Buckeyes who made it onto the court, eight had at least an assist. McMahon, Mikulášiková and Sheldon led Ohio State with five assists each in a game that wasn’t in question for much of the 40 minutes.
Moving Ahead of Iowa
After the game, the Buckeyes shared that they knew Iowa lost to Nebraska before the tipoff. It didn’t get into Ohio State’s head and with the win, the scarlet and gray own its destiny in terms of winning the regular season title. If the Buckeyes win out, the trophy stays with Ohio State alone.
If the scarlet and gray lose to Iowa, and win every game before it, the Buckeyes will earn a share of the title with the Hawkeyes.
Ohio State has one more game before an eight-day break between contests. It comes Wednesday, at the Schottenstein Center, when the Nebraska Cornhuskers come to Columbus for a Valentine’s Day matchup.
Nebraska had quite the Super Bowl Sunday, defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes after going down 14 points in the fourth quarter. That’s behind a fourth quarter for guard Caitlin Clark who took six shots in the final quarter, not scoring a single point. Its the only time the guard hasn’t scored a point in the fourth quarter in her four seasons with Iowa.