BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon found a way to score more than her usual against a stout Missouri State defense that stifled the Buckeyes for significant stretches.
Sheldon had 25 points and five steals, and No. 6 seed Ohio State overcame an early double-digit deficit to beat 11th seed Missouri State 63-56 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Sheldon, who came in averaging about 19.5 points per game, made 10 of 12 free throws. Taylor Mikesell scored 14 points for the Buckeyes (24-6), who didn’t take the lead for good until her 3-pointer from the left corner made it 54-52 with 3:10 left.
“I’m really proud of our effort and our ability to stay together and execute down the stretch,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “Their defense was very good and they made us earn everything.”
Missouri State (25-8) got as close as 58-56 with 41 seconds left on a Brice Calip putback. But Sheldon responded with a layup and two free throws to help seal the victory for the Buckeyes, who are playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 2018.
Ohio State shot 33.9% (19 of 56) and was held 16 points below its average of 79.2 points per game. However, the Buckeyes played some feisty defense of their own, converting 22 Bears turnovers into 25 points.
“At this time of year, you’re going to have to win in different ways,” McGuff said. “Today was more of our defense down the stretch that gave us a chance to win. Although I will say that our kids executed some really good offense when we needed it down the stretch.”
Calip scored 15 points, Ifunanya Nwachukwu grabbed 17 rebounds and Abigayle Jackson scored 11 points for Missouri State, which made it to the opening round in the Spokane Region by beating Florida State in a play-in Thursday night.
The Bears’ tight, tense and defensive contest against Ohio State had 13 lead changes and seven ties.
“We’re not hanging our heads. Just really proud of this group,” Missouri State coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said. “This game in particular was up and down, and I thought we had them.
“We were right there. Couldn’t really execute down the stretch, but some of the defense that we played and some of the grit and character that we showed out there was really amazing,” Agugua-Hamilton added.
Ohio State made just one of 13 shots in the first quarter, after which Missouri State led 14-5. Early in the second quarter, Missouri State led by as many as 12 points after Calip’s free throws made it 20-8.
Playing in their first game since losing to Indiana in the Big Ten semifinals on March 5, the Buckeyes missed 15 of their first 17 shots before they began closing the gap.
“We didn’t play our best basketball today,” Sheldon said. “We kind of got that game under our belt, and it’s been a while since we played so I think it was good to get back out there, and we’ll play even harder next time.”
Sheldon, Rikki Harris and Mikesell combined to make three straight 3s, trimming Missouri State’s lead to 22-17.
Sheldon’s transition layup after a steal by Mikesell gave Ohio State the lead at 25-24 with 1:14 left in the half, marking the second of five Ohio State layups in the final three minutes that came immediately after Missouri State turnovers.
Ohio State closed the half with three straight layups — the last two after turnovers — capping a 23-6 run that give the Buckeyes a 31-26 lead.
“We had a little hiccup sometimes in offensive execution,” said Calip, who committed four turnovers. “Overall, I thought our effort was there, our heart was there, left it all on the line. … It was just our little mistakes.”
But Ohio State’s shooting accuracy faltered again in the third quarter, which allowed Missouri State to methodically pull back in front, 36-35 on Calip’s free throw. Sheldon’s offensive rebound allowed Ohio State to go back in front 44-43 on Rebeka Mikulasikova’s 3 shortly before the end of the period.
Missouri State: The Bears’ defense and rebounding was as good as advertised, turning 22 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points and outrebounding the Buckeye 51-33. But the Bears’ overall shooting percentage of 33.3% (21 of 63) wasn’t quite good enough.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes looked rusty offensively, particularly early. It didn’t help that they were playing one of the better defensive and rebounding teams in the country. But they maintained their composure, made 20 of 30 free throws and used their full-court press effectively to create turnovers and transition baskets.
Ohio State plays host and three-seed LSU on Monday. LSU had a comeback win over Jackson State.
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