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Ohio State takes No. 5 Tennessee by storm: What we learned from the upset

Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon attempts to shoot over Tennessee guard Jasmine Powell. (Joseph Scheller/USA TODAY Sports)

The students could only wait so long.

After all, they had just witnessed No. 14 Ohio State defeat No. 5 Tennessee in the season opener for both teams. Not since 2008 had a team outside the top 5 started its season with an upset against a top-5 opponent.

Finally, security guards and stadium ushers stepped aside, and the Buckeye student section stormed the court, meeting their team to jump, cheer and capture the moment on iPhone videos.

Ohio State went from trailing by eight points at halftime and looking overmatched by the length and size of Tennessee to dominating the second half and securing an 87-75 victory over the Volunteers.

And though the win came in the first game of the season – far too early to determine overall success – Ohio State’s grit and intensity gave fans plenty to cheer about.

The Buckeyes put on a brilliant defensive performance. They pressed for most of the contest, with guards Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell providing pressure at the top, and forced Tennessee to commit 29 turnovers. That number is bad no matter how you look at it, but it gets worse when you consider Tennessee’s number of made field goals: 28. A game with more miscues than makes is rarely going to end in a victory.

Sheldon led the defensive effort with a career-high eight steals, while Emma Shumate came off the bench to provide rim protection, finishing with three blocks.

After advancing to the Sweet 16 last season, both squads have Final Four aspirations. The first game of the season isn’t indicative of late season success, but it provides a baseline for both squads.

Here’s what we learned from Ohio State’s historic victory.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes play a brand of defense that opponents will struggle with in the postseason.

Once Ohio State gets into Big Ten play, there will be squads that figure out how to beat it — but those are opponents who are familiar with Ohio State’s style and personnel. In the tournament, the Buckeyes likely will face unfamiliar opponents, and that works in their favor. The kind of high-intensity defense Ohio State plays is difficult to replicate in practice, and the real thing often catches teams off guard.

Early in the game, Ohio State struggled to finish around the rim (going 12-of-31), and even more so from beyond the arc (1-of-10), but they stayed within their offense and adjusted in the second half. Tennessee’s length and athleticism seemed to be an issue for Ohio State early, but once the Buckeyes got their defense working, the offense followed.

Sheldon and Mikesell will once again lead this team. Sheldon finished with 14 points and eight assists to go with her eight steals, and Mikesell led the team in scoring with 25 points (including four 3-pointers). But the Buckeyes also got an excellent showing from Rebeka Mikulášiková, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds – a huge increase from 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season. Her improvement might be the difference between another Sweet 16 finish and a Final Four run.

Tennessee's Jordan Horston attempts to block Ohio State's Taylor Mikesell. (Joseph Scheller/ USA TODAY Sports)


Tennessee needs to hope that the 29 turnovers were a result of opening-game jitters and not a bigger issue. Because if the Vols don’t take better care of the ball, it will be a long season of disappointment.

Another issue was the foul trouble Tamari Key endured. The 6-foot-6 center provides an excellent target on offense and a rim protector on defense, but she can’t do either of those things if she plays 13 minutes, as she did Tuesday. Finding a way to keep her on the floor will be crucial going forward; otherwise, Tennessee’s size advantage is much easier to neutralize.

Two positives for Tennessee were the play of Jordan Horston and Jasmine Powell. Horston led her team with 20 points and 13 rebounds – though she did commit seven turnovers. But the most important part of Horston’s game was simply that she played. After injuries kept her out of the NCAA tournament, the Vols are celebrating her return.

Meanwhile, Powell, who made her debut after transferring from Minnesota, fit right into the Volunteer offense. She went 7-of-12 for 19 points, and when she got downhill, no one on Ohio State could stay in front of the guard. But like Horston and the rest of the Vols, she had turnover problems, with five miscues.