March 5, 2023
Big Ten Tournament notebook: Day 4 live from Minneapolis
Ohio State pulls off a massive comeback, and Iowa turns the Target Center into "Carver North".
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The biggest comeback and nearly the biggest crowd in Big Ten Tournament history. Day 4 met and exceeded expectations, setting up a must-see matchup in the championship.
No. 1 Indiana 75, No. 4 Ohio State 79
On their way to a 27-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the Indiana Hoosiers had two regular-season meetings with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both games ended in blowout victories for Indiana, and both games featured unstoppable performances from Indiana’s All-American contender, Mackenzie Holmes.
Holmes scored a total of 59 points on 26-of-31 shooting from the field across those regular-season contests. On Saturday, Ohio State held the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year to just 12 points, tied for her lowest-scoring output of the season. They had a great plan for stopping Holmes right out of the gate, they just couldn’t stop anyone else in cream and crimson.
For much of the afternoon, it looked like the Hoosiers would make easy work of the Buckeyes with or without a big game from Holmes. But, you can’t make a massive comeback without first getting out to a dire deficit, and the Buckeyes looked like they were tumbling down a bottomless pit early.
A pair of free throws from Buckeye guard Rikki Haris tied the game at 12 at the 5:34 mark of the first quarter. They then went cold, going scoreless over the next 8:13. Indiana used that drought to uncork a 16-0 run and threaten to break the game wide open.
Indiana seniors Sara Scalia and Grace Berger led the way with 12 and 11 points respectively in the first half and Indiana flexed their offensive muscle early and often. As a team, the Hoosiers shot 53.3% from the field, made 5-of-10 threes, and 9-of-10 free throws.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes had a hard time even buying a bucket. Senior forward Rebeka Mikulasikova hit a three for her first points of the game late in the first half. Prior to that Ohio State attempted 12 threes and missed every single one of them, and shot just 10-of-35 from the field.
After a Sydney Parrish three extended the Indiana lead to 23 early in the second half, Ohio State looked like an entirely different team.
“As a team, we’re just telling ourselves the shots are going to go down,” Buckeyes sophomore Taylor Thierry said. “Obviously they didn’t go in in the first half, but we just had to trust ourselves and trust our shooters and knew they were going to come down, and they did. We made some huge shots, which kind of helped us settle in. We were also focused on getting stops and making sure that we’re pressuring the ball and not letting Holmes get easy posts.”
The Buckeyes went all out with a press and little by little the forced Indiana back on their toes. The combination of the pressure and Indiana’s inability to stay hot forever certainly helped get Ohio State back in the game. The biggest game-breaking factor, however, had to be the presence of senior Jacy Sheldon, who missed both regular season contests with the Hoosiers.
Sheldon played her first game in nearly a month and just her seventh game all year in Friday’s win against Michigan State.
Both Thierry and McGuff spoke of Sheldon’s importance to the team as a leader and an extra coach on the floor after Friday’s win. Sheldon’s play, especially on the defensive end made it apparent Ohio State couldn’t win this game without her.
“That was awesome. That was a great team win for us,” Sheldon said. “Our effort in the second half was awesome. We played together, and it showed. We’re happy about the win, but we’re not done. We’ve got to turn our attention and focus on tomorrow.”
Sheldon contributed 12 points in her 16 minutes of action. She also grabbed four steals and helped orchestrate Ohio State’s destructive press that must have made the halfcourt line look like it was a mile away for any Hoosier ball handler. At one point in the game, Sheldon and Harris were the only Ohio State players with a positive plus-minus. They both finished with a +20.
“We had a really bad first half,” Sheldon said. “It just shows the grit in this group to fight back from that deficit is really — you know, gives everybody a lot of confidence. Obviously, we don’t want to put ourselves in that position again, but having that energy the whole time and knowing we can come back was really special.”
Another massive adjustment that paved the way for Ohio State was putting freshman Cotie McMahon on Holmes. Indiana did a good job of limiting McMahon’s scoring output, but the freshman played a major role in shutting down Indiana’s low-post assassin.
“We put Cotie on her, which we’ve never done,” McGuff said. “She absolutely murdered us the first game and the second game. We had no answer. As I said, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expect different results. We knew we had to make some type of adjustment there, either double her, so we put Cotie on and fronted just to try to keep it out of her hands. Once she gets it, it’s over because she’s so quick and she’s got such good touch and she finishes so well.”
Ohio State’s defensive adjustments and amped-up press held the Hoosiers to 29 points in the second half. The No. 4 seed heated up just enough on the offensive end and made their clutch free throws, hitting 18-of-19 from the stripe in the second half.
Appropriately, the final steal, which led to the game-sealing free throws, was provided by Sheldon. After the Dublin, Ohio, native sank both to put the game out of reach, history had officially been made and the celebration was on.
“We’re excited,” Sheldon said. “Maryland and Iowa are really good teams. Now we’ve just got to focus on recovery, hydrate a lot, watch a lot of film, and be ready to go for tomorrow.”
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No. 2 Iowa 89, No. 3 Maryland 84
The No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the Big Ten split two high-scoring meetings in the regular season. The Terps blew out Iowa in College Park by a score of 96-68 on Feb. 21 but didn’t fare quite as well in Iowa City on Feb. 2, where Iowa won 96-82. While Minneapolis may be a few hundred miles away from the University of Iowa, the always excitable Hawkeye faithful had no problem transforming the Target Center into “Carver-Hawkeye North.”
A total of 9,385 fans showed up for Semifinal Saturday at the Target Center, a number good enough for the second largest in tournament history, and most of them were clad in yellow and black.
“The first thing I want to talk about is the amazing fans we had here again,” Iowa Head Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I mean, we’re saying it’s Carver North. It’s just amazing how the Hawkeye fans have shown up.”
The Hawkeyes came flying out of the gates. Caitlin Clark shook off her frustrating Friday night and enjoyed a much faster start to her Saturday evening semifinal. Clark made a beautiful assist to Monika Czinano on Iowa’s first possession and also shot 3-of-3 from three-point land in the first quarter, putting to rest any worries of last week’s loss at Maryland might be lingering.
“We knew that wasn’t an accurate description of what our team is and what we have been all year,” Clark said. “We really just went back to work, and we started off really well.”
Czinano continued her sparkling form early as well and also shot 3-of-3 from the field in the first frame as the Hawkeyes heated up quickly in front of their very partisan crowd. Iowa put up 26 points in the first 10 minutes of action, hitting on 10-of-15 from the field and 5-of-8 from deep.
Iowa’s fast start saw them take a commanding 21-9 lead just over five minutes into the contest, making seven consecutive shots and hitting on eight of their first 10 attempts from the field. The raucous crowd had plenty to cheer about during the first quarter and the Hawkeyes had a 26-18 advantage after the first 10 minutes.
Maryland bounced back in the second and senior guard Abby Meyers caught fire. Meyers scored 10 of her 21 points in the second frame and sparked a 10-0 run that got the Terps within two with under three minutes to go.
One of the biggest stories of the game, and of the tournament thus far, has been the play of Iowa’s Gabbie Marshall. Marshall hit a huge three to stop Maryland’s second-quarter run. The senior from Cincinnati has been scorching hot from three at the Target Center and matched a career-high with seven makes from long distance against the Terps.
Marshall was one of Iowa’s few bright spots in the 28-point loss in Maryland but had struggled over the first 20 or so games this season. It’s safe to say she’s found her stroke here in Minneapolis and has splashed ten threes across Iowa’s two wins so far.
“I couldn’t be happier for somebody. I mean, Gabbie, she works at it,” Coach Bluder said. “She was really pretty down at the beginning of the year. We just kept trying to pour into her, and over the last nine games, 58 percent. That’s like a third of the season.”
“When you struggle like I did in the beginning and just knowing the confidence that my coaches and teammates have in me. I knew that I had to start making shots in order to open things up,” Marshall said. “I’m happy that I can do that for the team right now. I’m not worried about what I’m shooting from three, but I’m just happy to help the team in that way.”
Iowa led 47-42 at halftime of another high-scoring, tightly-contested battle at a tournament that’s seen plenty of them this week. Meyers’ big night continued in the third quarter as Maryland kept chipping away at the lead inch by inch.
“At halftime, when we were kind of running through the tunnel, I was definitely just proud of the team and our fight (in) the first half because, give credit to Iowa, they’re a big first-half team, and we were able to only be down by five,” Meyers said. “So we were able to weather that storm, get all the kinks out, get the adrenaline, all the nerves out. I think I was really proud with our fight, and I was excited for us approaching the second half.”
Maryland keyed in on stopping Clark in the second half and held Iowa’s star to six points on one made basket from the field after halftime. However, Marshall, Czinano, and McKenna Warnock kept the Iowa offense humming as all five starters hit double figures in scoring.
Warnock had an incredible fourth quarter, scoring nine of her 21 points and hitting all four of her free throws in the final ten minutes. A pair of threes by Warnock and Marshall pushed the lead to eight with less than six minutes remaining.
The Terps showed grit and had another run in them, outscoring Iowa 11-3 to see the game tied at 79 at the 2:12 mark. Maryland nearly got the stop they needed to give them a real chance to take the lead, forcing a missed three-pointer from Clark near the end of the shot clock, but Warnock grabbed the clutch offensive board and kicked it out to Marshall for an equally clutch three.
If hitting a career-high-tying seven three-pointers wasn’t enough, Marshall also provided one of the biggest plays of the night on the defensive end, breaking up a Meyers pass at the top of the key and coming away with a steal. Maryland fouled to put Clark on the line, who hit one of two and gave Iowa a six-point lead at 85-79.
The deficit was just too large to come back from. Maryland got back within one at one point, but Warnock’s four clutch free throws in the last 22 seconds closed out the scoring. The Hawkeyes not only avenged their worst loss of the season, but they also kept on dancing into the tournament title game on Sunday.
For how well Maryland took care of the ball on the night, four fourth-quarter turnovers and two on consecutive possessions were just too many miscues for the Terps to overcome.
“Oh, those are going to haunt me. They were tough,” Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought they were more fatigue based. I didn’t think it was a result of their defense. I thought for us it was just lost our focus and fatigue on tired legs. So costly. Those are the things that you’re talking about when games come down to possessions. Crowd’s in it. You’ve got to be able to be more mentally focused.”
Both semifinals made it eight of 12 games at the Big Ten Tournament decided by five points or less. An incredible and exhilarating tournament comes to a close with Iowa facing Ohio State in Sunday’s championship game at 4 p.m. CT on ESPN.
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.