In working her way back from a knee injury that caused her to miss five games this season, Ohio State forward Stephanie Mavunga has become more comfortable.
She’s moving more confidently in Ohio State’s fast-paced offense, but more importantly she has a better understanding of her responsibilities. On a nightly basis, the redshirt junior said her sole worry is rebounding. Scoring, she said, will follow. Ohio State (19-5, 9-1 Big Ten), which plays Penn State (14-7, 4-5) tonight at Value City Arena, has benefited from Mavunga’s proficiency in both categories.
She averages 11.7 points, making her the second-leading scorer in one of the country’s top offenses. She’s also making 11.3 rebounds per game, filling a significant need for a team that almost certainly would not be second in the nation in total rebounds without her.
“I know that we really need rebounds and I know when coach (Kevin) McGuff recruited me here, that was one of the biggest things that he kept mentioning,” Mavunga said. “Rebounding is something that I try to put ahead of everything else.”
The 6-foot-3 forward averages five offensive rebounds, often corralling her own misses around the rim. Ohio State has finished with more second-chance points than its opponent in eight of 10 Big Ten games. Mavunga said improved anticipation and spatial awareness has allowed her to do her part on the offensive boards.
“Sometimes as soon it leaves my hand, I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, I know this is short, so I need to go back in there.’ Or ‘I know it’s long,’ ” she said. “But then some other times it’s just like, ‘OK, maybe I need to chill out,’ or if I go up I know I can’t go get my own rebound because it’s going to be a foul the way the positioning is set up.”
McGuff described Mavunga as a “ferocious” and “relentless” rebounder. With her continued service rebounding, this Buckeyes team will likely be the first in McGuff’s tenure to finish the season with a higher average than its opponents.
“Great player and really happy to have her,” McGuff said. “I think you add (freshman) Tori (McCoy) and (junior) Alexa (Hart) with her, we have some really talented post players.”