Ohio State women barely hold on to upend unbeaten Michigan, Hillmon scores 50
Ohio State was staring down its biggest win of the season when its worst fears began to become reality. Those fears were then erased on a high-arching three-pointer from its best shooter.
Down 74-73 to unbeaten Michigan with under a minute to go, the Buckeyes withstood pressure on the ball and eventually got it in the hands of guard Jacy Sheldon. On the right wing with 45.3 seconds left, Sheldon hit nothing but net that gave the Buckeyes a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
In a classic, No. 17 Ohio State gave up a double-digit second-half lead and allowed one of the nation’s premier post players to score at will, but the Buckeyes held on in the end for a dramatic 81-77 win over the No. 11 Wolverines.
“We beat a great team today,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “They've been playing excellent basketball this year. They got a special player in Naz Hillmon, obviously. But really proud of our team, just some really tough plays down the stretch and just some huge plays to come away with a great win.”
Ohio State (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) still had to sweat out the final possession after Madison Greene made two free throws to put the Buckeyes up 78-74. Michigan forward Naz Hillmon, who scored a program-record 50 points, finished a three-point play to bring the deficit back to one point.
Ohio State guard Braxtin Miller made one of two free throws, giving a shot at the win with 10.4 seconds remaining. But on its next possession, Michigan (10-1, 5-1) threw the ball out of bounds and Sheldon converted both free throws on the other end to preserve the win.
Sheldon led the Buckeyes with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and Greene and Dorka Juhasz added 15 and 14 points, respectively.
“Always good to beat the team up north,” Sheldon said. “It's always fun."
Until the fourth quarter, Ohio State seemed to have the game in the bag.
An efficient third quarter with 10-of-15 shooting put the Buckeyes ahead by as much as 16, and they led 66-54 entering the final quarter before Michigan pulled off a brutal comeback on Ohio State’s home floor.
Then the dam broke. Hillmon simply overpowered the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of her 50 points in the quarter to go with 16 rebounds for the game.
Ohio State simply couldn’t stop Hillmon, the Big Ten player of the year candidate who will undoubtedly be the frontrunner after Thursday’s performance. The Buckeyes were handicapped in the frontcourt already with Aaliyah Patty out with a shoulder injury, but it didn’t matter who guarded Hillmon.
Of course, Ohio State shouldn’t have allowed Hillmon to go off for 50 points. But with post players Juhasz and Rebeka Mikulasikova in foul trouble most of the fourth quarter, Ohio State couldn’t be as aggressive and McGuff made a gamble to prevent any other Michigan player from scoring at a high rate.
“We didn't want (Hillmon) to get 50, clearly, but we really just wanted to make sure we didn't let them get going,” McGuff said. “We could've played zone. I think maybe it helps, but maybe we're giving them more open looks on the perimeter … She's a great player and it makes you make some decisions, and it's not always easy to get it right.”
Michigan scored the first 11 points of the final quarter and denied Ohio State on the other end from any good look at the rim. Finally, the Buckeyes got the ball in the hands of Sheldon and they could exhale.
Barred from any postseason tournament, Ohio State has shrugged off the punishment and bought into the idea that this team is good enough to win a regular-season conference championship.
They took a big step Thursday in knocking off one of the last unbeaten teams in the country.