Braxtin Miller, Tanaya Beacham ready to end college career with an Ohio State run in NCAA Tournament
At the end of the 2021 season, Braxtin Miller and Tanaya Beacham had a decision to make. But all they could think about was what might’ve been.
Sitting on couches at Beacham’s house on campus, the two seniors almost couldn’t bring themselves to watch any Big Ten or NCAA Tournament games with Ohio State experiencing a postseason ban and missing out on March Madness for a third consecutive year.
"We were actually so sad that day,” Beacham said. “We didn't really want to watch games because we just felt like that should be us.”
Beacham was going to use her extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic to finish a master’s degree. Miller said she was 75% sure at that point she would return. What motivated both of them was ending on a high note, and getting Ohio State back to the tournament.
Exactly a year later, the Buckeyes clinched a share of the Big Ten title. Now their eyes are set on finishing their college careers with one last statement in March.
"It definitely all feels worth it,” Miller said. “Just a lot of gratitude I made the decision to come back and be with my friends and have this moment.”
Unlike the majority of this Ohio State roster, Beacham and Miller have been to the NCAA Tournament before. Beacham was redshirting her freshman year at Toledo when the Rockets were bounced in the first round as a No. 10 seed. Miller was a starter for Oklahoma State in 2018 when they lost in the second round to No. 1 seed Mississippi State.
Beacham was practically giddy talking about her excitement to be able to play a factor in Ohio State’s tournament fate this time around.
"I think a lot of people gave up on us, for sure,” Beacham said. “A lot of people had no hope in us this season. Just to prove them wrong, it feels good. I'm all here for making the doubters feel salty.”
While not the most impactful players on the team, Beacham and Miller can be seen in some ways as the heart and soul of the Buckeyes. Beacham has been a steady presence in the post off the bench for a team that knew rebounding would be a struggle this season. While just averaging 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, her effort and intensity is impactful.
Miller’s offensive production has diminished quite a bit this season, averaging only 6.6 points per game compared to 11.5 last season, which could be attributed to a wrist injury that has bothered her all season. But coach Kevin McGuff said her value — as well as Beacham’s — in the locker room as an emotional leader has been as big a contributor as any to Ohio State getting to this stage.
"They've been huge," McGuff said. "They're both great kids who compete every day in practice and on the court, and they provide a great leadership throughout the last couple years. They also play with some grit and toughness that we really need."
Miller transferred from Oklahoma State following the 2019 season. Beacham arrived a year later. Miller played a key role on the 2020 team that would have made the NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled by the start of the pandemic.
"It honestly feels like a whole full-circle moment because the last time I was in the tournament I was a freshman,” Miller said. “Now this being my last year, it definitely feels full circle, just being able to be back here with people I love. It feels like it's been a long-time coming, but it feels right.”
After point guard Madison Greene suffered a season-ending injury before games began, the Buckeyes weren’t expected to do much. Now facing a team that went to the Sweet 16 last season in No. 11 seed Missouri State, and potentially No. 3 seed LSU in the second round, the Buckeyes are still taking that underdog mentality that Beacham and Miller have championed as leaders.
"We've both discussed how much how much this (tournament) means to us,” Miller said. “It's been bittersweet for us both.”