December 24, 2023 

Big Ten roundup: Jacy Sheldon leads string of major offensive performances

Breaking down the six players who broke the 30-point threshold this week

In the final week of non-conference play, there were seven different 30-point performances from Big Ten players, as teams played their final tune-ups before the conference schedule kicks off. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark picked up the 13th triple-double of her career, Penn State’s Shay Ciezki dropped 40 points and Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon had a week to remember.

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

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What everybody’s talking about

Any of the seven 30-point efforts could’ve been worthy for this slot, but Sheldon was the only player to do it twice this week. First, in a 77–71 loss for the Buckeyes against No. 2 UCLA, Sheldon led Ohio State with 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting.

The Buckeyes entered the fourth quarter trailing 63–45, but the graduate guard scored 11 of her team’s 26 points to narrow the team’s deficit. The effort wasn’t quite enough, though, and the Buckeyes have now lost twice this season to soon-to-be Big Ten foes, also having dropped their season opener to USC.

Then, on Friday, Sheldon followed up her effort with 31 points against Belmont. Despite Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff having the chance to coach against his daughter, Kilyn, who plays for Belmont, it was Sheldon who once again stole the headlines. Even more efficient than she was on Monday, her 31 points came on 12-of-18 shooting from the field, including 5-for-9 from behind the 3-point line.

While Ohio State has several players that can score (see: Cotie McMahon, Taylor Thierry), consistency from Sheldon will help the program attempt to follow up on last year’s Elite Eight run.

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This caught my attention…

Though it was during a game against Central Connecticut State, who finished at the bottom of the Northeast conference last year, Penn State sophomore guard Shay Ciezki put up an impressive 40-point effort. In just under 30 minutes, Ciezki hit 8-of-14 from beyond the arc and missed just two of nine two-point shots.

Head coach Carolyn Kieger has described how Ciezki is taking her game to another level after an exceptional freshman season — this performance is just another example of that effort. Now averaging 16.5 points per game, she’s played a major role in the Nittany Lions’ 9–3 start to the season, including the 101–73 win over the Blue Devils on Wednesday.

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Other notable headlines

Caitlin Clark’s latest masterpiece

Loyola Chicago hung with the Hawkeyes during their game on Thursday, trailing by just five at halftime, 51–46. But in the second half, it was Clark’s time to take control. She scored 21 of her 35 points in the final 20 minutes of action and walked away with another triple-double, also snaring 17 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists.

So far, Clark sits at 30.5 points per game, already outpacing last season’s effort of 27.8 points per game. Her scoring may come down slightly once Iowa faces the tougher defenses in the Big Ten, but it’s undeniable that Clark is continuing to polish her game in her fourth year in Iowa City.

Pair of Hoosiers with big days

Two of Indiana’s guards also put up 30-point efforts last week: against Evansville on Monday, it was sophomore guard Yarden Garzon, then fifth-year guard Sara Scalia took over against Bowling Green on Friday

Garzon, one of the tallest guards in the NCAA at 6’3, exploited her matchups against an undersized Evansville team. She was 12-for-14 from the field and 3-for-4 from deep in her 30-point effort, helping lead Indiana to a 109–56 win.

Then on Friday, Scalia put on a 3-point shooting clinic, knocking down eight of her 11 attempts from long range en route to her 32-point performance. The Hoosiers took care of business in an 84–35 win, improving their record to 10–1.

Michigan and Illinois miss opportunities for key non-con wins

Two teams with NCAA Tournament expectations, neither Michigan nor Illinois did much to help their resumes throughout the non-conference slate. While the Wolverines demolished the Illini, 84–48, on Dec. 10, that may be their most notable win so far.

Michigan had a chance to pick up a marquee win Wednesday against Florida, but ended up losing 82–65. Plenty of work still remains for a team that lost several key veterans over the last two seasons and continues their search for consistency.

Meanwhile, after the Illini lost a nail biter at home last Sunday to Missouri, Shauna Green’s group had a chance for a notable victory over Arkansas on Wednesday at the West Palm Beach Classic. The Illini led 59–58 with 12 seconds left, but guard Makira Cook missed a layup, and the Razorbacks secured the rebound. Arkansas’ Maryam Dauda managed to score right at the buzzer, handing the Illini another heartbreaking loss.

Last year, Illinois was 8–4 in games decided by 10 points or less. So far this season, the Illini are just 1–3 in those games. Perhaps the team is simply regressing to the mean after slightly overperforming in 2022–23, but this trend may become concerning if it continues into conference play.

Notable games coming up this week

  • Saturday: Ohio State plays Michigan at 12 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Michigan State plays Penn State at 4 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Illinois plays Indiana at 12 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Maryland plays Nebraska at 2:30 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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