February 5, 2024 

Big Ten notebook: Rutgers picks up first conference win, Ohio State tops Indiana

The Scarlet Knights pulled off an upset in Lincoln, Ohio State won its second top-10 game of the year and Caitlin Clark scored 38 at Maryland

In a battle of top-10 foes, No. 8 Ohio State prevailed over No. 10 Indiana this week in the Big Ten. Rutgers also picked up its first conference win of the season, Caitlin Clark continued her prolific scoring binge and Michigan got back on track with an impressive road win over Penn State.

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Here’s your week 13 roundup of Big Ten action:

What everybody’s talking about: Ohio State holds off Indiana, picks up second top-10 win of the season

Two weeks after beating No. 2 Iowa 100-92 in overtime in Columbus, the Buckeyes (19-3; 10-1 Big Ten) once again picked up a massive win for Big Ten and NCAA Tournament seeding after a 74-69 win over Indiana on Sunday. Following a relatively even first half that saw the Hoosiers (18-3; 9-2 Big Ten) take a 37-32 into the halftime break, Ohio State raced out in the second half, at one point leading 63-49.

Graduate guard Jacy Sheldon led the Buckeyes with 25 points; sophomore forward Cotie McMahon added 20 with seven rebounds. The win moves Ohio State into first place in the Big Ten standings, thanks to its head-to-head win over the Hawkeyes (21-2; 10-1 Big Ten) who share the same 10-1 record in conference play.

Meanwhile, the loss for Indiana came as the Hoosiers played their fourth straight game without senior guard Sydney Parrish because of a foot injury. Averaging nearly 11 points, six rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, her absence was most notable on Sunday. Sophomore guard Lexus Bargesser, who filled the bulk of Parrish’s minutes, has shown to be a capable player off the bench for head coach Teri Moren this year, but she hasn’t yet developed into much of a scoring threat — as evidenced by Ohio State often leaving her open when she held the ball behind the 3-point line.

Part of what makes the Hoosiers elite is the fact that any of their four starting guards can knock down a 3-pointer, and the threat of Mackenzie Holmes always looms in the paint. Without Parrish, that meant the Buckeyes could devote more attention to the other four starters, particularly Holmes who had 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting.  

In other words, the win for Ohio State validates Kevin McGuff’s team as once again one of the best in the league, but Parrish’s absence certainly hinders Indiana from playing to its full potential.

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This caught my attention: Rutgers beats Nebraska in Lincoln

Kaylene Smikle was the only Scarlet Knight to average more than 10 points per game last season, but the sophomore guard hasn’t played since Dec. 30. That’s left a major void in the Rutgers (7-17; 1-10 Big Ten) offense, as Coquese Washington’s team struggled to an 0-10 start to Big Ten play. But on Saturday in Lincoln against a Nebraska (14-8; 6-5 Big Ten) team in contention to make the NCAA Tournament, graduate center Kassondra Brown scored 21 points to lead the Scarlet Knights to a 71-70 victory.

Rutgers entered the fourth quarter with a 60-49 lead, and while Nebraska stormed back to cut its deficit to 69-68 with 2:16 left, the Huskers’ Alexis Markowski missed a layup as time expired to send the Scarlet Knights back to New Jersey victorious. 

It’s not like they haven’t come close to winning a Big Ten game before. Among their 10 Big Ten losses, four of them have come by 10 points or less. Perhaps Saturday will serve as a confidence boost as the shorthanded Scarlet Knights look to build some momentum in the final month of the season.

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Other notable headlines

Clark’s sixth straight 30-point game

Clark scored 38 points in Saturday’s 93-85 win at Maryland (12-10; 4-7 Big Ten). Terps head coach Brenda Frese argued after the game that her team’s zone was effective in forcing her out of her rhythm in the second half. Still, Clark sunk seven 3s in the game, and while Maryland deserves credit for fighting back from a 52-38 halftime deficit to take a 65-63 lead late in the third quarter, Clark and the Hawkeye offense was simply too much for the Terps to handle.

In addition to her 38 points, Clark also dished out a season-high 12 assists. Her shooting prowess is well documented, but it’s her passing that makes Iowa doubly hard to guard. Molly Davis, Kate Martin and Hannah Stuelke, in particular, have been the major beneficiaries of Clark’s immaculate court vision.

A big win for Michigan

The Wolverines (15-8; 6-5 Big Ten) felt like a team stuck in the mud entering Saturday’s game at Penn State (16-6; 7-4 Big Ten). They’d just lost back-to-back games, including a 13-point loss at home to an Illinois team they’d beaten by 36 to open conference play. But in State College, the good version of Michigan showed up. All five starters scored at least 10 points, with junior guard Laila Phelia leading the way with 23 and graduate guard Lauren Hansen adding 15, and the Wolverines won, 80-75.

Now 6-5 in the conference, Michigan hasn’t seen a ton of consistency develop around Phelia on offense, and she’s played 38 minutes or more in four of her team’s last five games. Saturday’s well-rounded effort was a positive sign, but if the Wolverines can’t replicate that level of balance moving forward, it’s hard to see how this group makes a run heading into the Big Ten Tournament with Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State still looming on the schedule.

Illinois finding its footing?

Like Michigan, Illinois (10-10; 4-6 Big Ten) has been one of the more puzzling teams in the conference this season, but perhaps the tide is finally starting to turn in Champaign. The Illini beat Michigan 77-64 on Wednesday to move to 10-10 overall and 4-6 in the conference, and the team’s now won back-to-back games. 

Most encouraging in the wins over Minnesota and Michigan has been senior guard Makira Cook posting consecutive 20-point efforts, the first time this season she’s done that after reaching that mark in 14 of Illinois’ final 23 games last year. 

With winnable upcoming games against Purdue and Northwestern, don’t be surprised to see Cook and the rest of this experienced group continue to rediscover their confidence, something key to last year’s NCAA Tournament run. 

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Notable games coming up this week:

  • Tuesday: Nebraska plays Michigan at 7 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Michigan State plays Indiana at 7 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Penn State plays Iowa at 9 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Ohio State plays Minnesota at 9 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Iowa plays Nebraska at 1 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Ohio State plays Michigan State at 4 p.m. ET

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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