McGuff, McMahon focused on future for Ohio State women’s basketball despite first loss

COLUMBUS — The Ohio State women’s basketball team had played 19 games before Monday night, but many of those watching them either in person or on television likely were doing so for the first time this season.

Program-record undefeated starts tend to build attention, as does a slot on ESPN2 against the team that shared the conference championship with the Buckeyes last season.

Unfortunately for Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff, his team’s big unveiling in front of a sellout crowd of 9,955 at Value City Arena and a national television audience could have gone much better.

The second-ranked Buckeyes shot poorly (38 percent from the floor, including 16 percent from 3-point range) and lost the rebounding battle 51-31 en route to a decisive 83-72 loss to No. 10 Iowa.

On the bright side, there is lots of basketball left to be played this season, and the game only really cost Ohio State two things: An undefeated record and sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

The former likely was never a serious goal, and the latter can still be addressed in the final nine games of the regular season. That starts Thursday night at Indiana, the team tied with the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes at 8-1 in the conference standings.

“One of the things I told them is outside of tonight I think we’ve handled winning fine,” said McGuff, a Hamilton native in his 10th season as head coach of the Buckeyes. “Now you’ve got to handle losing really well, so it will show a lot about our competitive character over the next couple of days. It’s not going to be easy going to Bloomington.”

One of the brightest spots for Ohio State on Monday night was Centerville High School grad Cotie McMahon.

She played nearly every second and had the ball in her hands often, displaying a strong all-around game with 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.

With Ohio State still missing two of its top three ball-handlers (Madison Greene, who is out for the season, and Jacy Sheldon, who is expected back eventually), the 6-foot freshman was tasked with creating her own shot frequently and made 8 for 19 from the field along with drawing five fouls.

Although it was arguably the biggest spot she has been in this season considering the stakes, McMahon responding well did not qualify as a surprise.

McGuff put her in the starting lineup against No. 5 Tennessee to open up the season, she scored 10 points and there has been no looking back.

She entered the game averaging 12.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, and her importance has only grown with Greene and Sheldon sidelined.

“She came last year at Christmas and I think that really helped her with her growth and maturity,” McGuff said. “but she also had a really good experience with USA Basketball last summer where she won a gold medal at the U-18 Americas (tournament).”

He also praised the work ethic of the former Elk, who graduated early from high school, skipped her senior season and began practicing with the Buckeyes midway through last season.

“That is the hardest part to know,” McGuff said. “I could see her talent in high school, but she plays hard and she practices hard every day. That’s why I’m so excited about where she is but more importantly where I think her future can be.”

If the only question regarding McMahon is how far she can go this year and beyond, that is true of the Ohio State squad as a whole.

Until Monday night, they had managed to outrun the absence of Sheldon, a first-team All-Big Ten player last season and a 16-point, 3.2-assist performer this season, but the game against Iowa confirmed that couldn’t last forever.

“Yeah, certainly we need her,” McGuff said. “You saw that tonight because we just weren’t very effective at the 3-point line or just on the perimeter. So we need her.

“Hopefully she’ll be back before too long, but even without her we needed to play better, and we didn’t and that’s why Iowa deserved to win the game.”

The rest of the schedule is no walk in the park for Ohio State.

The game at Indiana is the first of two against the Hoosiers, and they also have a pair of games to play against No. 11 Maryland along with a trip to No. 14 Michigan in February.

“I was never concerned about if we’re going to lose, it’s how we play,” McGuff said. “We just didn’t play very well. To get dominated on the boards like that, we just didn’t show the fight that we needed in a really big-time Big Ten basketball game.

“And so the loss I can handle if we would have played as hard as we could and really executed at a high level and they just beat us — no problem — but we didn’t play well, and we didn’t deserve to win.”

The Buckeyes are still looking for their first Elite Eight since making their only Final Four appearance 30 years ago, but they have big wins over Tennessee, No. 18 Louisville and No. 14 Michigan under their belts already.

And Monday night showed they still have plenty of room to improve.

“I think we’ve handled success really well, but now we have to handle a loss so this could really determine who we are as a team,” McMahon said.

“We’re not worried about this game anymore. We got Indiana next, and that’s all we’re worried about. The game was over when the buzzer hit, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

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