Ohio State’s tournament implications remain on the line in lieu of its biggest game of the season versus Maryland on Monday. A win puts the Buckeyes in position to win the Big Ten and secure the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
The 12th-ranked Buckeyes (23-5, 13-1 Big Ten) have secured at least the No. 2 seed for the Big Ten tournament, but a win against the No. 2 Terrapins (26-1, 14-0) could end Maryland’s three-year streak of winning the conference.
“If we want to win, if we want the Big Ten title under our belt, it starts here,” junior guard Kelsey Mitchell said.
Coach Kevin McGuff said that rebounding will be one of the major factors that affects the outcome of the game. Given the Buckeyes have had to adjust for the last few weeks of regular-season play with junior forward Stephanie Mavunga out with a foot injury, McGuff said the effort will have to be “all hands on deck” for a victory. Mavunga leads the conference with 11.3 rebounds per game.
“All of our post players have stepped up,” he said. “Tori (McCoy) did a great job last couple of games. Alexa (Hart) has done well. Shayla (Cooper) and McKayla (Waterman) — although they don’t play the same position — they played a little bit more minutes because of it. Everyone has played a bit more, and they’ve all done a nice job.”
Mavunga has also helped with coaching, specifically aiding in the development of freshman forward Tori McCoy, who has to replace part of the role that Mavunga had as a dominant post player.
McCoy and senior forward Shayla Cooper have been visibly impacting the effort on the glass to fill Mavunga’s role. But Mitchell said redshirt sophomore forward Makayla Waterman has been just as crucial to the team’s rebounding efforts.
“When (Makayla) gets in, she’s always one of those people that gets rebounds, makes sure the ball stays in the air, gets a lot of tips and a lot of good deflections when the ball goes up and hits the rim,” Mitchell said. “So, she’s one of those people not a lot of people mention. But I take notice of it, I think our team takes heave of it and you can’t forget about her.”
Some of the Buckeyes’ players said they are excited for the opportunity and big stage Monday’s game provides.
“I love intense games,” McCoy said. “I am kind of nervous because it is my first time playing in the Big Ten versus Maryland, because they are the top in the Big Ten.”
McGuff sees this as an opportunity to see where OSU stands moving forward into tournament season.
“We aspire to play our best basketball at the end of the year,” he said. “This is a good measuring stick to see where we are. I think we still have room to grow and get better for sure, between now and when we’re done playing this year, and this will kind of give us an idea of where we are.”
OSU is currently riding a nine-game winning streak and coming off a win Thursday night against Nebraska. Maryland has their own winning streak at 13 games, with their last and only loss coming from the undefeated, UConn on Dec. 29.
This game could be a shootout with OSU being the fourth in the nation in scoring at 87.2 points per game and Maryland being the top scoring team in the country at 90.0 ppg.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 20 at the Schottenstein Center.