Ohio State Women Beat James Madison in NCAA Tournament

As tensions began to heat up around the Ohio State women’s basketball team, the Buckeyes did the only thing they could.

They fired up James Madison.

No. 3 seeded Ohio State overcame early cold shooting and a 16-point deficit thanks to pressure protection. The Buckeyes forced the Dukes to make 21 losses to rally for an 80-66 victory in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament opener game at the Value City Arena.

“The coach (Kevin McGuff) says that every day,” said senior quarterback Jaycee Sheldon, who played a full game for the first time since returning from a foot injury in February. “We’re going to miss. This is something we cannot control. But we can control our defense, so we focused on that.”

Ohio State (26-7) will play the winner of the North Carolina-St. John’s game following OSU’s victory.

Coty McMahon, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, scored 18 for OSU. Sheldon scored 17 points and nine assists in 36 minutes.

“Having her back in the starting XI was really satisfying for all of us,” McMahon said. “She is not only a great player. She is a great teammate. Having her on set to motivate us and cheer us on helped us a lot.”

Sheldon has only played 23 minutes in four games since returning from injury. Ohio State has not played since losing 105–72 to Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game after trailing a 24-point deficit against No. 2 Indiana in the semi-finals.

The long break allowed Sheldon to recover even more. It also may have contributed to the Buckeyes showing rust against JMU (26-8), the Sun Belt Conference champion.

OSU has had some unexpected early NCAA losses in recent years, and for much of the first half it looked like the Buckeyes might be heading for another one. OSU needed a 12-0 streak late in the first half to only be 37-34 behind.

The Ohio State offense faltered from the start, missing 21 of the first 27 shots. Adding to the problem, McMahon and Taylor Thierry committed two early fouls each. McGuff benched them briefly because he couldn’t afford to keep them, especially McMahon, off the court.

Taylor Mixell, Ohio State’s leading scorer with 17.3 points per game, hit 0-for-6 in the first half and then finished with 14 points. Sheldon was 2 for 9 from the field in the first half. OSU missed all six of his three-point attempts in the first 20 minutes and made only 2 of 17 in a game.

James Madison, who hit 3 of 4 3-pointers, used a 12–1 streak to take a 20–11 lead and ended up widening the gap to 35–19.

Then the Buckeyes came to life. Rebeka Mikulasikova and McMahon hit back-to-back three-pointers, and OSU’s press defense began to take its toll.

Sheldon had four of Ohio State’s 10 interceptions.

“Our press is on a different level when it’s there because of its speed, quickness and intensity,” McGuff said. “Our pace is much better when she is on the floor or when the ball is in her hands. She’s moving up the court faster than usual, and these guys will be running with her, so we’re at a better pace. Overall, I think she’s the person on our team who makes everyone better.”

James Madison didn’t score in the last 3:32 of the half and missed all 12 of his 3-point attempts the rest of the way.

Trailing by 3 at halftime, Ohio State regained the lead with two free throws from Ebony Walker and took him for good with a 3-pointer with 5:18 left from McMahon, the first OSU from beyond the arc.

From there, the Buckeyes broke away. Ohio State led 54-50 early in the fourth quarter and scored the first eight points of the final period. Until the end of the road, the Buckeyes maintained a double-digit lead.

“We started very slowly, especially in ball play,” McGuff said. “It kept us out of our abs and most of the rhythm. Once we started taking a few shots, I thought we were playing a lot better.”

Thierry and McMahon eventually fouled, but by then it didn’t matter anymore. Thierry scored 15 points to lead OSU with six rebounds.

Kiki Jefferson edged out James Madison by 17 points.

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