Ohio State women's basketball hoping win over Clark's Iowa just the beginning

Jan. 22—COLUMBUS — A record crowd showed up Sunday for an Ohio State women's basketball game.

Most came to see one bit of history, but they might have witnessed another.

The 18,660 fans at Value City Arena not only were treated to 45 points from Iowa star guard Caitlin Clark but also what the Buckeyes hope could be a coming out party of their own.

With Cotie McMahon scoring 33 points to lead five Ohio State players in double figures, the Buckeyes erased a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to win 100-92 in overtime, igniting a raucous postgame celebration and hopes of the program returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1993.

"We beat an incredible team with one of the best players to ever play our sport, and we did it in front of 18,000 people," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "The significance is hopefully we can really build on that with the momentum with our program this season, but in general, we had a lot of recruits here that I think loved the environment and the atmosphere. It was on NBC. So we came into this thinking this was an incredible opportunity, and we capitalized on it."

McGuff took his team to the Elite Eight last season then spent the offseason loading up for another run.

He added ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor from Duke, veteran forward Taiyier Parks from Michigan State and guard Kennedy Cambridge from Kentucky to a group returning standout guards Jacy Sheldon, Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry and forward Rebeka Mikulasikova.

The Buckeyes went into the game ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll with a win at Tennessee but losses to No. 2 UCLA, No. 11 USC and unranked Michigan.

For a team with high expectations, the results had been good but not great.

"We've been coming in here just learning a little things, how to play together, how to trust each other," said McMahon, a sophomore from Centerville. "And then on top of that, just working hard every day, making sure that every practice is getting us ready for the games."

McGuff did not sound concerned before his team took on the second-ranked Hawkeyes, who themselves are aiming to be playing in late March or even April again after losing the national championship game to LSU last spring, but he was not surprisingly optimistic about his team's trajectory afterward.

"I told them we wouldn't have won this game three weeks ago," said McGuff, a Hamilton native and Badin High School grad. "We just weren't playing well enough, but we've gotten better with our defense. We've gotten better with our rebounding, and we still have a ways to go to be who I think we're capable of being."

Although they were playing at home, the Buckeyes proved themselves on the biggest stage they have taken yet this year.

Traffic trying to exit onto Lane Avenue was backed up onto State Route 315 nearly two hours before the game.

Black and gold jerseys with Clark's name and No. 22 dotted the arena, and fans wearing both team's colors staked out the visitors entrance way to the court hoping to get a glimpse of Clark up close — and maybe an autograph.

They were treated to a classic game that could be staged again in March.

The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes, who have been rivals since just about the time the Big Ten started officially sponsoring a basketball championship in the early 1980s, will meet at least one more time this year in the regular-season finale March 3 in Iowa City.

That could be Clark's final conference game (she is a senior but has the option of returning for one more because of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the 2020-21 season), and it might decide the Big Ten champion, too.

"We're a great team," said Clark, who was upbeat and gracious in defeat and at times sounded like a coach herself breaking down what did and did not work for the Hawkeyes. "They're a great team, and I told the girls after the game in the locker room we're lucky enough to get to play them again. We're gonna have an opportunity to match up against them again, so you can't hang your head too much. Just gotta respond. Every game in the Big Ten is a battle, and that's what makes it so fun."