March 6, 2023 

Big Ten Tournament notebook: Championship Sunday live from Minneapolis

The theme of the first four days of the 2023 Big Ten Conference Tournament was one of nail-biting, back-and-forth battles and furious finishes

MINNEAPOLIS—The theme of the first four days of the 2023 Big Ten Conference Tournament was one of nail-biting, back-and-forth battles and furious finishes. Through Semifinal Saturday, eight of the 12 games played in this year’s tournament were decided by five points or less. Even with a couple of blowout outliers, the average score differential clocked in at just a hair above seven points per contest. 

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In Sunday’s championship game, Iowa’s Monika Czinano hit the second of her 12 shots from the field at the 4:03 mark of the first quarter to push Iowa’s lead to 14-7. Ohio State wouldn’t so much as sniff a five-point deficit for the rest of the afternoon.

No. 2 Iowa 105, No. 4 Ohio State 72

Snow started falling outside the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis at some point during the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship. Inside the building, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and the second-seeded Hawkeyes made it rain from the moment the game tipped off and thoroughly dismantled the fourth-seeded Buckeyes.

Both Purdue and Maryland found limited success in limiting Clark’s offensive output at times and even frustrating her on occasion in two tough matchups to start the tournament. The Terps held Clark to just one basket from the field in the second half of Saturday night’s thriller. The Boilermakers got after Clark early with an aggressive box and one that held Clark scoreless in the second quarter of Friday night’s quarterfinal and went into the locker room trailing the high-powered Hawkeyes by just four points.

Emphasis on “limited’ success in both of those two scenarios for Purdue and Maryland. Clark still ended both games with 22 points and both games were obviously Hawkeye wins. On Sunday, there were no moments of struggle or frustration for the superstar, just 40 minutes of excellence and celebration.

Clark did everything that has made her one of the biggest stars in college sports. She hit her shots, nine of them, to be specific, with five of them coming from beyond the arc. She dropped 30 in a title game, her 10th game of the season with 30+. She ran the floor and orchestrated the game to perfection, setting up her teammates to the tune of 17 assists on the night, her most in any game this season and one shy of a career-best (she had 18 assists in a 107-79 win at Penn State last year). She also grabbed 10 rebounds, giving her just the third triple-double in tournament history and the first in a championship game.

Clark rebound No. 10 came midway through the fourth quarter as Lisa Bluder started to empty her bench, making it one of the more dramatic moments of the evening.

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“I mean, I knew I needed one more,” Clark said. “Coach Bluder told me right before that, and it was a really long rebound, so I had to turn the jets on to get it. It was kind of fun. We went down, maybe somebody made a shot, I don’t know. It was kind of a fun moment with the arena. I started laughing a little bit. Our fans have been incredible. Our three games here, I don’t know if we do it without them. It’s really a homecourt advantage.”

Many of those 17 assists were converted by fifth-year senior and Watertown, MN product Monika Czinano, who enjoyed the most efficient scoring night in conference tournament history. Czinano shot 11-of-12 from the field, which set a new Big Ten Tournament single-game record for field goal percentage at .916.

“I thought Monika worked really hard inside tonight,” Clark said. “It’s not always easy when you’re getting fronted constantly and they’re super physical. She makes some really tough catches on the block.”

Czinano owned the paint in the first half, exploding out of the gate for 17 points and seven rebounds before the intermission. A stark contrast to Ohio State, who had a difficult time getting anything to fall in the early going.

The Buckeyes were dismal from the field in the first quarter. Ohio State guards Taylor Mikesell and Taylor Thierry were the only two players in scarlet and gray to find the bottom of the net in the first ten minutes. Cotie McMahon found some space under the basket and finished at the rim a few times in the second quarter. It wasn’t until Emma Shumate’s 3-pointer with 57 seconds remaining in the third period that a Buckeye other than McMahon, Mikesell, or Thierry converted a shot from the field.

“Just that in the first half, just our competitive spirit wasn’t where it’s been for almost all of the season,” Ohio State Head Coach Kevin McGuff said. “We missed some early shots and then just everything went away. All the things that we’ve worked on, talked on, all the things we were trying to do today, we were doing none of those, and Iowa was just making us pay big time.”

You cannot talk about this game, however, without bringing up the stellar all-around play of Hawkeyes senior guard Gabbie Marshall. Marshall is one of the veteran leaders on this team but struggled throughout the season. Her scoring output of 11, 21, and 9 may not raise any eyes for how it appears on paper alone, but for three days in Minneapolis, the senior out of Cincinnati has been absolutely sensational.

Iowa’s Gabbie Marshall played a pivotal role in helping the Hawkeyes capture their second consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship, especially on the defensive end of the floor (Photo Credit: John McClellan)

Marshall took three attempts from 3-point range in the championship and all three went in. She provided the bookends to the game, hitting the first shot of the night to make it 3-0 in favor of Iowa and making the crowd go crazy, and hitting one of the last to hit the century mark for the Hawkeyes and making the crowd go really crazy.

Marshall also played energetic, hell-raising defense through the whole weekend and more than earned a spot as one of the six members on the All-Tournament team.

Unsurprisingly, Clark earned the title of the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and Czinano also earned All-Tournament team honors for the Hawkeyes. In consolation, Ohio State’s Cotie McMahon and Thierry also received All-Tournament team honors. Maryland’s Diamond Miller was the only non-championship participant to be named All-Tournament.

The second half saw much stronger play from the Buckeyes and even a few glimpses of the pugnacious and unrelenting press that forged the improbable comeback against top-seeded Indiana on Saturday, but the hole had been dug too deep and much of the second half felt more like a coronation than a competition and coach Bluder took advantage of the rare opportunity to get every single one of her players in the ball game.

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“We have some stars, but honestly everybody — like yesterday five people in double figures on this team, and that’s when we’re at our very best,” coach Bluder said. “Second quarter might be the best quarter of basketball that I’ve seen or been a part of in a long time. To win back-to-back championships, so hard to do in this league. This is an amazing league. Great coaches, great players. Just feel really, really thankful that we have this opportunity today to win this again.”

Both teams will wait to see where they fall in the NCAA Tournament field. Iowa has most certainly played its way to a one-seed, but nothing’s official until that black and yellow shows up on the one line on Selection Sunday. Ohio State is likely looking at a three-seed and still the fourth-seeded team overall from the Big Ten behind Indiana, Iowa, and Maryland.

“I think this does earn us a one seed, but at the same time, I don’t know how much difference there is in a one seed, the fourth one seed and the top two seed,” Clark said. “You’re technically in the same region. We beat two one seeds in the past two weeks. I don’t know how that wouldn’t earn you a 1 seed, but I’m not the one that makes those decisions.”

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark celebrates a second consecutive Big Ten Tournament crown at the Target Center in Minneapolis (Photo Credit: John McClellan)

All in all, Iowa’s dominant performance capped off an incredible five days in Minneapolis.

Per the Big Ten: A record-setting 47,923 fans attended this year’s tournament, surpassing the previous mark of 42,631 fans set last year. This year’s average of 6,846 fans per session was also the fifth-highest “per session” attendance average in Big Ten Tournament history and highest since 2008, when the tournament averaged 7,119 fans per session. In addition, three of the 10 largest single-session crowds in the 30-year history of the Big Ten Tournament occurred this week in Minneapolis — Saturday’s semifinal attendance of 9,375 is third in the event’s history (largest for a semifinal) and Friday’s evening quarterfinal attendance of 8,577 is ninth all-time and was the most ever for a quarterfinal session.

Personal honorable mentions

I can’t close out my final piece of the tournament without mentioning two players I felt like should have been on the All-Tournament team who weren’t. Illinois’ Makira Cook and Penn State’s Makenna Marisa both deserved a spot in the All-Tournament sun, in my opinion. I don’t know who they would replace (my ballot also included an emphatic vote for Gabbie Marshall), so I guess I’m advocating for more than six selections to be honored in future Big Ten Tournaments.

Cook more than earned a spot as one of the six players on my All-Tournament ballot and has been one of the most exciting guards with the ball in her hands all year. She’s been crucial to the success of Shauna Green’s upstart Fighting Illini and was just one of the most electrifying players to step foot on the Target Center hardwood this week. Cook scored 24 on Thursday night in a blowout win against Rutgers and another 19 in a losing effort against the Terps on Friday.

I didn’t find room on my ballot for Penn State’s Makenna Marisa, but I really wanted to. Wednesday’s session of No. 13 Penn State vs. No. 12 Minnesota, followed by No. 14 Northwestern vs. No. 11 Rutgers, may not have been the biggest contributing sessions to the aforementioned attendance records, but they are part of the tournament too and demand not to be overlooked.

Marisa played a phenomenal game against the hometown Gophers on Wednesday and was even better in Thursday’s session against the Wolverines. Penn State nearly upset No. 5 Michigan on Thursday and did so without their star point guard Shay Ciezki. Penn State’s entire team showed tremendous grit and heart, and few players in this whole tournament had more of an impact on positive play than Marisa did for the Nittany Lions, in my view. After the loss against Michigan, she indicated her plans to return for her fifth year of eligibility for coach Carolyn Kieger.

Written by Terry Horstman

Terry Horstman is a Minneapolis-based writer and covers the Minnesota Lynx beat for The Next. He previously wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves, and his other basketball writing has been published by Flagrant Magazine, HeadFake Hoops, Taco Bell Quarterly, and others. He's the creative nonfiction editor for the sports-themed literary magazine, the Under Review.

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