Breaking down standout night against UNC for Ohio State’s Eboni Walker, motivation behind it

Mar 22, 2023 - 4:01 PM
NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Ohio
Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Team chemistry is one of those basketball intangibles that’s easier to see. It comes in the form of quick and accurate passes on the move, knowing where a teammate is going on a play, and for the Ohio State women’s basketball team, moving in the press confidently with someone having your back.

A strong bond in a team also manifests itself in bench player reactions and post-game interviews. Take forward Eboni Walker. The Las Vegas, Nev. area native has had a journey in college.

Monday night, the Ohio State women’s basketball team faced a North Carolina Tar Heels side that wouldn’t give up. Despite multiple double-digit leads for the Buckeyes, UNC yo-yoed their way into the game in the final minutes. Under the biggest stage of the season to date, Walker had her best performance.

As each of Walker’s Buckeyes’ career-high 15 points went in, especially late in the game, the excitement of teammates was palpable. It looked like a team rooting on a player not just for the final outcome, but seeing the journey behind the scenes leading to the destination.

After the game, the chemistry was in the sound of teammates who’ve spent all season and more with Walker, all genuinely happy for not simply a win but Walker’s part of it. Seeing where Walker started and where she was Monday night.

“Seeing her do this is honestly great. I’m really proud of her,” said forward Cotie McMahon. “Seeing her confidence go through the roof. Especially in an important game like this game. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for her.”

It wasn’t simply scoring that made Walker effective, although a 4-for-7 efficiency game for a new starter is nothing to ignore. Walker added seven rebounds (four on offense), three assists, and a steal in the victory.

In those assists and offensive rebounds was the story of a veteran player playing with poise and confidence. Walker played in tight spaces, and when the ball came her way there wasn’t a rush to move it along. Instead, reading the defense and making the right call. So right that Walker didn’t turn the ball over a single time in her postseason-high 29 minutes on the court.

Near the end of the third quarter, after Walker was sent to the court on a foul, a section of fans directly behind the Buckeyes bench began chanting the forward’s name, “Eboni! Eboni! Eboni!” Warranted praise for Walker.

Then, on the final play of the game, guard Jacy Sheldon hit the game-winning shot and received all the natural praise that comes with the hard work and talent of Sheldon.

However, that game-winner came off a broken play, as Land-Grant Holy Land analyzed on Tuesday. A play that didn’t go as planned even before the inbound pass was made. It worked because of Walker. After the game, coach Kevin McGuff and Sheldon were the first to shift the focus to Walker.

“Eboni made a great decision not passing the initial one to Jacy because she really wasn’t open. Then we swung the ball back around and got it back in her hands,” said McGuff.

“I think keeping our composure in that situation was huge, keeping possession of the ball, and that was all Eboni,” said Sheldon.

Walker joined Ohio State and was supported in every step of the journey, Walker told The Lantern. Walker joined a family dynamic with the Buckeyes. Walker’s teammates, or family members, supported her all season. All while Walker worked on her fitness, increased her knowledge of McGuff’s system, and played sporadic minutes, but recently there was a shift.

“She’s been ready since two weeks ago when we had that little break and she’s been working every single day,” said guard Taylor Mikesell. “Just a testament to how hard she works. Really showed today how aggressive she was on the offensive glass.”

So what is it that pushed Walker to play her best minutes as a member of the Scarlet & Gray? It was showing that love and support back to her family.

“One of our coaches made a comment in the locker room before we started games, like, this is never going to be the same team again, and that just speaks a lot,” said Walker. “I want to do whatever I can for the people that won’t be here next year. I want to make this season special because we have a special team.”

It worked on Monday. When there’s a crowd full of fans cheering for you, getting angry at the officials, and a tough UNC side from a top group of ACC talent, it’s easy to get distracted. For Walker, it didn’t seem to bother her.

Instead, Walker went from a transfer trying to find her place on the court to being part of the senior leadership that put Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.

“I’m really proud of Eboni. We’ve all in the program watched her in practice, in flashes, in games of what she did today, and this was her best game and biggest moment when we needed it the most,” said McGuff. “I’ve been telling her all year — for a long time, like, You’re capable of really impacting us at a high level, and she was awesome tonight.”

There’s still a long run ahead and tough competition. Facing the 11-time NCAA Champions UConn Huskies is no small task. Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game or what’s on the stat sheet next to Walker’s name, there’s a deep appreciation for the Ohio State family around her.

“They support me in so many different ways other than basketball,” said Walker. “Just thinking that I transferred this many times and they took a chance on me, just from that, I knew that I had to give them my very best.”

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