As the Ohio State women’s basketball team (15-17, 5-11) fired up their final practice shots before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament, the atmosphere seemed tense.
Even as rap music played overhead in the practice gym, the feeling that comes with an end of a season was felt throughout the gym from the team’s body language and lack of communication.
For five players, Thursday’s matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats (15-14, 5-11) could be their last appearance in a Buckeye uniform, and for some, could possibly be their last competitive game ever.
One of those players is redshirt-junior guard Amy Scullion, who chose to forego her final year of eligibility to pursue medical school opportunities. Scullion said knowing this could very well be the last game she plays is motivation to succeed.
“We absolutely have nothing to lose,” Scullion said. “It is most likely that if we don’t win the Big Ten tournament, we are done this season so we have to get it done.”
Scullion, who was awarded the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Monday said playing in a one-and-done situation makes it easier to focus on the task at hand.
“You know that you only have so much time left,” Scullion said. “This is it. I have the next game and if we lose, I am done.”
The Buckeyes are likely to have the full surfaces of recently named first team All-Big Ten sophomore guard Ameryst Alston, who leads OSU in scoring this season with 18.2 points per game. Alston was not made available for comment as she is still rehabbing a shoulder injury suffered in a 65-61 loss at Iowa Feb. 27. She became the 12th first team all-Big Ten selection since 2005 for the Buckeyes, marking the 10th straight season OSU has had a player selected to the first-team list.
Although Alston is still recovering, McGuff said she should be ready to go against the Wildcats.
“She is a lot better,” McGuff said of Alston’s condition. “She was really sore there for a couple days heading into the Minnesota game (Sunday) and even in the game, but she is much better now.”
If Alston should need rest, junior guard Maleeka Kynard is set to be available in a limited role after returning to the OSU lineup Feb. 27 against Iowa after missing seven games because of injury.
“She’s back, but her conditioning is still way off,” McGuff said. “So it is hard for her to play very many minutes in a row.”
Senior forward Martina Ellerbe, who entered OSU in the same recruiting class as Scullion, echoed her teammate and said there is no lack of motivation to win.
“This is the Big Ten tournament, and seeing that this is the last time we get to be in it, I think that is enough to amp us up,” Ellerbe said.
While it might be a last for the seniors, coach Kevin McGuff will be making his first appearance in the Big Ten tournament. McGuff is no stranger to conference tournaments however, as he led the Xavier Musketeers to four Atlantic 10 conference titles.
When asked about his expectations however, McGuff said he is simply focused on Thursday’s game.
“We just want to stay focused on Northwestern,” McGuff said. “They are a very good team, they have a lot of talent and we will have to play well to win.”
Unlike the Buckeyes, the Wildcats are coming off of a win in their regular season finale as they beat Wisconsin, 77-73, in overtime Sunday. OSU’s last win came against the Wildcats, a 71-62 contest on Senior Day Feb. 23 at the Schottenstein Center.
Having just recently played the Wildcats, McGuff said the preparation has been slightly easier for his team.
“We just saw them play and it is not like I think either team has put in a bunch of new stuff,” McGuff said. “I think it will be an interesting game.”
Scullion said while the preparation has been easier, the idea of playing a team after just seeing them is challenging.
“It is always scary … because they have seen you really recently,” Scullion said. “They are definitely fresh in our mind.”
The No. 8 seeded Buckeyes are set to tip off with the No. 9 seed Wildcats Thursday at noon in Indianapolis. The winner is scheduled to play No. 1 seed Penn State (22-6, 13-3) Friday at noon.