Jacy Sheldon Comes Up Clutch with Ohio State’s Season on the Line: “Sometimes It’s About Having The Best Player on the Floor”

By Dan Hope on March 20, 2023 at 8:42 pm
Jacy Sheldon making the game-winning shot vs. North Carolina
Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

Ohio State’s final play against North Carolina didn’t quite play out the way Kevin McGuff drew it up. Thanks to Jacy Sheldon, that didn’t matter.

“Sometimes it’s about coaching. Sometimes it’s about having the best player on the floor,” McGuff told the Buckeyes in the locker room after their 71-69 victory.

With the game tied at 69 apiece and less than 10 seconds to play, getting the ball into Sheldon’s hands was always McGuff’s plan. Sheldon was initially well-covered by North Carolina guard Kennedy Todd-Williams, forcing Ohio State forward Eboni Walker to dribble to buy time. Once she successfully passed the ball to Sheldon, four North Carolina defenders converged toward the Ohio State point guard, forcing her to switch hands while dribbling between two defenders before putting up a shot with three defenders in her face.

None of those defenders got a hand on the ball, however, which Sheldon deftly floated through the rim to put the Buckeyes ahead with 1.8 seconds to play, scoring the final two points of a four-quarter thriller at the Schottenstein Center to secure a second-round NCAA Tournament win over the Tar Heels and punch Ohio State’s ticket to the Sweet 16.

“The plan was to get it in Jacy's hands, for sure,” McGuff said. “It didn't go exactly the way we wanted it. We got a little fouled up on our timing. And they guarded it well, they guarded the initial action really well. Eboni made a great decision not passing the initial one to Jacy, because she really wasn't open. And then we swung the ball back around and got it back in her hands. I told 'em in the locker room, sometimes it's about X's and O's and sometimes it's about having the best player on the court.”

In a game that nearly slipped away from the Buckeyes as they let a 12-point lead evaporate over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter, Ohio State went into its final possession with confidence knowing it would have a chance to win as long as it could get the ball in Sheldon’s hands.

“That's where you want the ball to go,” said Taylor Mikesell, who led the Buckeyes with 17 points against North Carolina. “I mean, we see it every single day at practice, see it every day when we're working out together. Like, just how much adversity she's been through this season, just to come back and be ready for that moment and just to be like her old self if not better, which is pretty incredible.”

Sheldon was deferential during the postgame press conference, however, saying Walker deserved just as much credit for making the play happen.

“She made a great play there and that's what led to that bucket,” Sheldon said. “Keeping our composure in that situation was huge, keeping possession of the ball, and that was all Eboni.”

As a whole, Sheldon’s fourth season at Ohio State hasn’t gone the way it was expected to go. An All-Big Ten honoree and Ohio State’s leading scorer in 2021-22, Sheldon played in six regular-season games this season due to a foot injury. 

In the NCAA Tournament, however, Sheldon has proven to be back to her old self. Her 16-point, six-rebound, five-assist, two-steal effort against North Carolina came after she tallied 17 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals in Ohio State’s first-round NCAA Tournament win over James Madison.

Ohio State was cautious about not bringing Sheldon back too quickly because of the impact she had the potential to make in the postseason, and Monday’s game-winner was exactly the kind of moment the Buckeyes wanted to make sure she’d be available for.

“Obviously, she's such a great player, and we would want her in every game for as many minutes as possible. But just due to an unfortunate injury, we didn't have that,” McGuff said at the postgame press conference. “But I think Jacy and the trainer worked really, really hard to get back and to have a chance to impact us like she's doing down the stretch. I think some good decisions were made from the medical staff and from Jacy and their collaboration to kind of get it right.”

“Sometimes it’s about coaching. Sometimes it’s about having the best player on the floor.”– Kevin McGuff on Jacy Sheldon’s game-winner

While the adversity she experienced this season made it all the more fitting that she would make the heroic play with the season on the line, Sheldon wasn’t thinking about her individual accomplishment after the game, instead celebrating the fact that the Buckeyes were continuing on in the NCAA Tournament, giving them the opportunity to travel to Seattle to play either UConn or Baylor in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.

“It's always special to win,” Sheldon said. “I think winning is always our top priority, especially in March. I mean, it's hard to win. So it's awesome. Winning is fun, and we got a group of competitors, so it was extra special for us.”

That said, Sheldon’s teammates said it made the win extra special for them to see Sheldon make the game-winning play, knowing how hard she has worked to get healthy and be at her best when her team needs her most.

“I mean, Jacy’s went through a lot,” Cotie McMahon said. “So for her to get this moment, I feel like, not that she hasn't been in her rhythm, but I feel like this will help her continue to be the great player that she is.”

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