Ohio State women's basketball opens season with statement 87-75 win over No. 5 Tennessee
As Ohio State prepared to host No. 5 Tennessee for the first game of the season Tuesday night, the No. 14 Buckeyes knew they were going to have their hands full with the Lady Vols.
That proved true in the first half, as Tennessee gave Ohio State all it could handle and led 41-33 after 20 minutes. But in the second half, an 18-0 run from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth flipped the game into the Buckeyes' control, and they maintained that control for an 87-75 win.
Guard Taylor Mikesell, who chose to return to school for one last season after the Sweet 16 loss, led the way with 25 points, including the 3-pointer that gave Ohio State the lead in the third quarter.
Tennessee's size advantage was evident early, as it out-rebounded Ohio State 15-6 in the first quarter on its way to a 22-16 lead. The Buckeyes found more success on the glass in the second quarter, with 11 rebounds to Tennessee's 10, but they continued to shoot poorly and couldn't do much to narrow the gap. Ohio State shot just 38.7% from the field in the first half and 50% from the free-throw line.
"The game went kind of the way we wanted," coach Kevin McGuff said. "We wanted to make it very much up-tempo. We wanted to press them, to speed them up and not let them get comfortable in the half-court. I thought we were kind of doing that, we just weren't making any shots in the first half, so we couldn't get into the press enough."
When Ohio State was able to put a short run together and cut into Tennessee's lead, the Lady Vols always had an answering run of their own. Late in the second quarter, two strong possessions from freshman Cotie McMahon and a jump shot from Madison Greene cut the deficit to five points, Tennessee responded with two made free throws and a layup to stretch the lead to nine points.
But in the second half, the Buckeyes were able to frustrate the Lady Vols with their tempo and the shots they hadn't made in the first half started to fall. They shot 63.3% from the field in the second half, which enabled them to both erase the deficit and keep Tennessee from mounting a comeback.
"It started on the defense for us, I think," Mikesell said. "We settled down a little bit on defense and finally started getting some stops, and then got some easy looks. Shots started falling at the end of the day, but we weren't really pressing to make shots."
After a quiet first half by her standards, with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting, including 0-of-3 from 3-point range, Mikesell came to life in the third quarter. With 2:24 left in the quarter, Mikesell's jump shot got the Buckeyes within one, and on the next possession, after an offensive rebound by Emma Shumate, she made a three to put Ohio State in front for the first time all game.
In total, Mikesell scored 15 points in the third quarter and made three 3-pointers, keying a 17-point swing that took the Buckeyes from trailing by eight to leading by nine.
"She didn't shoot it well in the first half and just was a little out of sorts, but I had no qualms about her coming out and having a great second half," McGuff said. "I figured she would turn it on and start making some shots. She was spectacular in the second half."
The 18-0 run was stopped by a layup from Tennessee guard Jasmine Powell, but the Lady Vols were on the back foot the rest of the way and couldn't do much to get themselves back in the game. The Buckeyes forced Tennessee into29 turnovers and scored 37 points off those turnovers, while Jacy Sheldon led all players with a career-high eight steals.
As the clock ticked down, some fans began to head to the exits when the outcome was no longer in doubt. But when the final buzzer rang, a large portion of the Ohio State student section stormed the court in celebration of the statement win the Buckeyes produced to open the season.
"Pretty incredible. I don't think I've ever seen a court storm for a women's basketball game before," Mikesell said. "Being a part of it, especially, was awesome."