Women’s Basketball: No. 18 Buckeyes pull away in fourth quarter, stave off Boilermakers in Big Ten opener

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Ohio State senior guard Braxtin Miller pushes her way through the Bucknell defense during the Ohio State-Bucknell game Nov. 10. Ohio State won 71-48. Credit: Gabe Haferman | Assistant Photo Editor

Behind an impressive fourth quarter performance, No. 18 Ohio State women’s basketball rebounded from its first loss of the 2021-22 season Sunday, defeating Purdue 70-53 in its Big Ten opener.

The Buckeyes (6-1, 1-0 in Big Ten) found themselves entrenched in a sloppy and physical battle with the Boilermakers (6-3, 0-1 in Big Ten) through three quarters where the two teams combined for 37.8 percent shooting from the field and 29 turnovers.

With just a 45-40 lead going into the final period, Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff’s team overcame a disjointed start and erupted in the fourth quarter, making seven of its 10 field goals and outscoring Purdue 25-13 en route to the 17-point victory.

McGuff said he was encouraged by the improvements his offense made in the second half, as the Buckeyes learned to take higher-percentage shots and trust the offensive scheme.

“In the first half, we didn’t move the ball side to side and we took really quick shots,” McGuff said. “We didn’t make Purdue defend at all. We took a lot of contested shots. In the second half, I thought we moved the ball significantly better, which allowed us to get better opportunities.”

The Buckeyes’ second half surge was led by senior guard Braxtin Miller and junior forward Rebeka Mikulasikova, who netted 19 of their 29 combined points after halftime on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting.

Miller, who finished with a season-high 16 points, said she came into the matchup with an aggressive mindset after a productive conversation with associate head coach Carla Morrow.

“I feel like at the beginning of the season, I was just trying to figure out my role for this year. It’s changed every year since I’ve been here,” MIller said. “But I talked to coach Carla about it, and that’s what she was expecting from me and wanting from me, to be more aggressive, shoot, and get to the basket. I just went for it today.”

Miller and Mikulasikova were joined by a duo of Buckeye guards who reached double-figures, with junior Jacy Sheldon and senior Taylor Mikesell recording 12 and 16 points, respectively.

Mikesell, who has reached double figures in every game this season, earned her first double-double of the season, collecting a season- and team-high 10 rebounds.

The Massillon, Ohio, native said she and her teammates, who outrebounded the Boilermakers 41-36, needed to make a more concerted effort on the glass after surrendering seven offensive rebounds to Purdue in the first half.

“It’s a rebound by committee because we’re a little smaller,” Mikesell said. “We gave them a lot of offensive rebound opportunities, which led to more points in the paint. But we wanted to cut back on those coming out of halftime. I think that was the focus for us, just to hit somebody and box out when the shot goes up.”

After surrendering 97 points in their last contest against Syracuse, the Buckeyes’ defense bounced back with a dominant performance, as they held the Boilermakers to just 30 percent shooting from the field and 17 percent from three.

McGuff, who was critical of his team’s defensive effort after the Syracuse game, said his team showed the focus and intensity needed to defend against well-coached Big Ten opponents.

“We were significantly better defensively,” McGuff said. “At Syracuse we just didn’t compete on the defensive end. Today we competed. I told them before the game that [Purdue] is very deliberate and they execute really well, and that we would have to get them deep in the shot clock to get stops.”

After a disappointing loss at Syracuse Wednesday, Mikesell said Sunday’s victory could serve as a significant stepping stone for the season because it showed that the team could rebound from adversity and emerge victorious on the road.

“It’s a big win for us,” Mikesell said. “Coming off the Syracuse loss, being able to bounce back and getting this win under our belt on the road, being our first Big Ten game, it’s huge. I think it will be a good momentum starter for us as we start Big Ten play and as we finish out non-conference.”

Ohio State will return home Wednesday to host Mount St. Mary’s at the Schottenstein Center. The game will tip-off at 7 p.m.

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