January 21, 2024 

Big Ten roundup: Cotie McMahon leads Ohio State past Caitlin Clark, Lady Lions start to find their gear

The sophomore's 33 points guided the Buckeyes to an overtime victory

Caitlin Clark and Iowa once again found themselves playing in the marquee matchup of the week when the Hawkeyes faced Ohio State and Cotie McMahon in Columbus. Meanwhile, Minnesota responded after a loss in Bloomington with a dominating performance over Michigan State, Penn State picked up two big wins and more.

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Here’s your week 11 roundup of Big Ten action:

What everybody’s talking about: Cotie McMahon’s career day hands Iowa its first Big Ten loss of 2024

Sophomore forward Cotie McMahon had found herself in a bit of a sophomore slump: after scoring 27 points against Penn State on Dec. 10, she was averaging just 8.4 points over seven games. But she broke out of it in a major way on Sunday afternoon, scoring a career-high 33 points in the Buckeyes’ 100-92 overtime win over Iowa.

Caitlin Clark scored 45 points — her third 40-point performance of the season — but it wasn’t enough against McMahon and Ohio State’s ensemble cast of Jacy Sheldon (24 points, seven rebounds, three assists), Taylor Thierry (11 points, seven rebounds), Celeste Taylor (10 points, three rebounds, four assists) and Rebeka Mikulasikova (10 points, four rebounds, five assists). 

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The loss was the Hawkeyes’ first since their 65-58 defeat against Kansas State on Nov. 16, snapping a 15-game winning streak.

Ohio State’s (15–3 overall, 6–1 Big Ten) win allows Indiana (15–2, 7–1) to move into a tie with Iowa (18–2, 7–1) for the top spot in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes are a half game behind both teams and will play the Hoosiers on Feb. 4.

This caught my attention: two more wins for the Lady Lions

Penn State (13–5, 4-3 Big Ten) opened their conference season 1–3. Now, the Lady Lions have won three in a row after an 82–73 win over Nebraska (13–6, 5–3) in State College on Sunday, and they feature the second-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten.

The return of guard Ashley Owusu has surely helped elevate their offense, adding another strong scoring option to their rotation. Against Purdue on Thursday, Owusu had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists; against the Cornhuskers, she had 20 points and six rebounds. Mixed with the scoring of Makenna Marisa, Shay Ciezki, Leilani Kapinus, Tay Valladay and Ali Brigham, there are no easy answers for how to slow down the Penn State offense.

Other notable headlines

Minnesota takes down Michigan State in battle of conference’s biggest surprises

The Gophers (14–4, 4–3 Big Ten) had a chance to make another major statement on Wednesday when they played Indiana in Bloomington, but the Hoosiers had other ideas. Indiana thoroughly outplayed Minnesota in an 85-62 win, thanks to a 32-point performance from forward Mackenzie Holmes and 22 from guard Sara Scalia.

But on Saturday, Minnesota responded in a big way, holding a Michigan State (13–5, 3–4) team that entered the game averaging nearly 89 points per game to nearly 40 points below its average in a 69–50 victory. Forward Mallory Heyer led the Gophers with a monstrous 18 points and 15 rebound double-double. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s looking increasingly likely that head coach Dawn Plitzuweit is on the cusp of taking the Gophers from one of the worst teams in the conference to the NCAA Tournament in just one season.

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Indiana’s Sydney Parrish misses Purdue game with injury

Senior guard Sydney Parrish appeared on crutches and in a walking boot on her right foot before the Hoosiers’ Barn Burner Trophy game at Mackey Arena against Purdue (9–9; 2–5 Big Ten) and didn’t play. After the game, head coach Teri Moren said Parrish was injured at practice on Friday, and they will know more about her status soon. Despite missing Parrish, Indiana escaped West Lafayette with a 74-68 win over a pesky Boilermakers team.

Best known for her shooting ability, Parrish has further developed her game this season to become a better facilitator (2.4 assists per game, up from 1.8 last year) and someone who’s been willing to do the dirty work on the floor that might not show up on the stat sheet. Her extended absence would be a big loss for an Indiana team with one of the top offenses in the country.

Illinois’ surprising struggles

The Illini (8–9, 2–5 Big Ten) had an up-and-down week, demolishing Rutgers, 96-68, before losing to Maryland, 90-82. Both games saw at least five Illinois players reach double digits in scoring, and the Illini have now scored an average of 90.3 points per game over the last three contests.

Yet, it’s been a thoroughly disappointing second season for head coach Shauna Green. After turning the Illini from a bottom-feeder into an NCAA Tournament team last year, this year’s group — though featuring most of the same players — has demonstrated a puzzling inconsistency.

What stands out when comparing baseline stats between seasons is that there aren’t any glaring drop-offs. The Illini are scoring and allowing roughly the same number of points per game and have roughly the same offensive and defensive Her Hoop Stats ratings as they did a year ago. However, two other pieces are the most likely contributors for the sluggish season so far: guard Makira Cook’s struggles and the team’s inability to win close games.

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Cook was one of the top guards in the conference last season when she averaged 18.3 points and 4.2 assists per game and was poised for another big season. But she missed the first three games of the season with an injury and just hasn’t provided the same spark. Her scoring average has dropped to 13.8 points, and her field goal percentage of 38.1% would be tied for the worst mark of her career.

In terms of close games, the Illini were 8–4 last season in games decided by 10 points or fewer; this year, Illinois is 1–7. Perhaps it’s a simple regression to the mean after over-performance last season, but a veteran group taking this type of step back has certainly been one of the bigger surprises in the Big Ten this year.

Notable games coming up this week:

  • Wednesday: Maryland plays Michigan at 7 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Michigan plays Michigan State at 12 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Nebraska plays Iowa at 2 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Maryland plays Penn State at 1 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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