By Drew Hansen | @UnorthodoxDrew
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — One bad shooting night would not negate the accomplishments of the Ohio State Buckeyes, nor would it dim their bright future. At the end of January, the Buckeyes were 11-9, had a losing record against Big Ten teams, and were in ninth place in the conference.
“In November and December and even January,” said coach Kevin McGuff, “we looked like freshmen because we are, but these young kids have played so many minutes in so many tough games that we’ve really grown up, and it’s really great to see the maturity level and the ability to execute in a tight game.”
Somewhere between where the Buckeyes have been and where they’re headed, there was Sunday night’s 66-51 loss to top-seeded and sixth-ranked Maryland in the championship game of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament. Before the confetti stopped falling from the roof of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Ohio State’s disappointment had already become a point of reference.
For the Buckeyes have grown to understand the value of their journey. Starting with their overtime victory at Nebraska on February 2, Ohio State (21-12) would win 10 of its next 12 games, bringing them to the program’s 10th Big Ten Championship game, after tournament victories over Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan.
“I’m just really proud of the group,” continued McGuff. “We played really hard, we really competed at a high level, and the kids left everything out there. We ran into a really good team today, give Maryland credit.”
The Buckeyes were limited to 37.9% shooting Sunday night, including 22.2% in a decisive third quarter. For a second consecutive night – Saturday against Indiana, Sunday against Ohio State – an impressive third-quarter surge put the Terrapins in charge.
Despite the somber mood of the Ohio State locker room, the team has plenty to be happy about. Being written off as underdogs for much of the regular season, Ohio State’s chemistry has improved with every person they’ve proved wrong.
“A lot of people weren’t expecting us to make it this far, not even being ranked,” said sophomore forward Aaliyah Patty. “I think a lot of people didn’t see Ohio State in the championship. I think we did a great job of proving everyone wrong, although it wasn’t the final result we wanted.”
While the roster had plenty of talent, the one thing it was missing was experience. Playing four games in four days in a tournament setting helped these players grow as they hope to hear their school’s name called in the NCAA tournament drawing on Monday night.
“I think we’re all going to learn from this and we’re going to use it as motivation in the tournament,” said freshman guard Jacy Sheldon. “I think overall we played a pretty good tournament. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted, but we’ll use that as growth for the future.”
Sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz, who led the Buckeyes with 20 points, was already looking ahead. “If we’re going dancing, always just prepare for the next game,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what’s coming after that, just game by game we’ve got to prepare, scout and get better.”