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Ohio State women’s basketball surprises with rebounding against Minnesota

Recent history couldn’t predict the Buckeyes’ Thursday night performance on the boards.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Ohio St. at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In the last three seasons, Ohio State women’s basketball’s been known for many things, and rebounding isn’t one of them. Entering Thursday night, all the signs were there that the way the Buckeyes would win leveraging more experience and offensive firepower. Instead, the deciding factor was the work on the boards.

Strong rebounding forwards litter the history of the Ohio State program history books. Before recruiting violations by the Buckeyes’ hit the program and the start of the pandemic, Ohio State was a top-four rebounding team in the Big Ten.

However, with prominent forwards Dorka Juhász and Aaliyah Patty transferring following the 20/21 season, head coach Kevin McGuff changed how the Buckeyes played. Instead of the traditional bigs in the paint grabbing missed shots, Ohio State became the fast, pressing, team ranked No. 5 in the country.

Rebounding-wise, the Buckeyes moved to the bottom half of the conference over the last three seasons, falling as low as 12th last season. Despite a negative rebounding margin, Ohio State still succeeded, making it to the Elite Eight with dangerous shooting from deep and a full court press that gave some teams nightmares.

Looking at Ohio State’s matchup Thursday night against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the safe prediction wasn’t that the Buckeyes would have a successful day on the boards.

After all, Minnesota entered the game third in the conference, grabbing 40.3 rebounds per game. That’s thanks to forward Mallory Heyer and 6-foot-5 center Sophie Hart averaging 8.3 and 5.1 respectively. Not to mention two other starters with at least four per game.

Ohio State’s -.8 rebounding margin didn’t elicit much hope, neither did the Minnesota bigs and Golden Gophers +5 margin entering halftime of Thursday’s game at the Barn.

“We certainly made a point of emphasis because we were down at the half in terms of rebounding margin,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “We needed to be a little more physical, just have a little more pursuit to the ball.”

In the first half, Hart and Heyer didn’t only slow rebounding but any kind of offense inside the paint. The Golden Gophers outscored the Buckeyes 12 to 6 in the first half in points in the post. That left players like forward Cotie McMahon to pull up and take midrange jumpers. McMahon and company hit enough of those shots to take a five-point lead before Coach McGuff delivered his halftime speech.

The Buckeyes didn’t bounce back because of its own size. Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková played deeper in the game to help give space to her teammates inside the paint, drawing out Hart. Instead, Ohio State leveraged its strengths.

“They’re kind of packing the paint a little bit,” said guard Celeste Taylor. “But I think us cutting through and moving around the people that were boxing us out kind of helped us on the offensive end rebounding and defensively. They’re trying to get back because they know we push it in transition. So we knew we had to take advantage of that in that way.”

Minnesota broke in the third quarter. Another Buckeyes halftime adjustment turned into a bad 10 minutes for the Gophers.

Even with Hart and Heyer on the court for nine and 10 minutes of the quarter, Ohio State’s increased intensity, and a Minnesota team trying to make up a deficit, turned into a 10-to-3 rebounding performance in the visitor’s favor.

With the Buckeyes’ lead growing, the paint opened up further, allowing Ohio State 18 points in the paint in the 10 minutes, compared to 15 points total for the Buckeyes in the second quarter.

By the end of the third quarter, the scarlet and gray’s five-point lead at halftime ballooned into a 25-point advantage.

“We were really lethargic in the first half,” said McGuff. “But we did a really good job with that in the second half. I thought our pace was better. Our ball movement was better. We got to the rim. We got open threes, and our defense stayed pretty consistent.”

Although the Buckeyes out rebounded the Golden Gophers by only a single rebound (33 to 32), five players had at least three rebounds for Ohio State. Leading the way was McMahon with nine and Taylor and forward Eboni Walker each grabbing five apiece.

It’s another game in a line of performances showing how the 23/24 edition of the Buckeyes can win in numerous different ways. It’s a chameleon-like ability that’s won Ohio State 20 games in eight of its last 11 years under Coach McGuff.

“It’s been it’s been a great ride so far,” said McGuff. “And really, we’ve been really fortunate to have great players in our program. “And, you know, as they say, ‘there are coaches with great players and ex-coaches.’”