COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Scoring 85 points a game and winning by an average of 25 points, No. 6 Ohio State finally got to find out how it would handle a close game.
Not bad, as it turned out.
Jantel Lavender had 18 points and 15 rebounds and Samantha Prahalis hit a 10-foot jumper with 9 seconds left to lead the Buckeyes past Michigan 59-56 on Sunday.
The Wolverines almost tied the game on Courtney Boylan’s 30-foot heave at the buzzer that hit the front edge of the rim.
“I don’t like the ball being in the air with the clock still ticking,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said.
The win was the eighth straight for the Buckeyes (16-1, 4-0 Big Ten).
Dayeesha Hollins had 19 points and Jenny Ryan and Carmen Reynolds had 12 apiece for the Wolverines (9-5, 1-3). Michigan, which lost its third in a row, scored the first eight points and never trailed by more than four points.
“This would have been huge,” said Reynolds, a Columbus native from Hilliard Davidson. “I can’t even express in words what it would have been like if we got this win.”
Veronica Hicks’ 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:17 left cut Ohio State’s biggest lead of the game to 57-56. After Ohio State’s Maria Moeller missed from long range, Hollins drove the lane and appeared to have an easy layup before Lavender — the Buckeyes’ two-time Big Ten player of the year — moved across the lane to force Hollins to change the arc of her shot. Lavender then got the rebound.
The teams traded possessions before Prahalis, second in the nation with 8.5 assists a game, fed freshman Tayler Hill for a baseline drive. Hill was pinned in on the baseline by Michigan defenders and kicked the ball out to a surprised Prahalis, who was unguarded just inside the free-throw line.
“She made a really good pass and it was kind of close, but that shot could be a little tricky,” said Prahalis, who finished with 15 points. “It just happened to go in.”
Michigan hurried the ball down the court after a timeout, but the Buckeyes had fouls to give and used one to disrupt coach Kevin Borseth’s called play with 2 seconds left.
With the Wolverines forced to inbound near their bench, the ball went to Boylan, who turned and tossed up a shot that just skipped off the front of the rim and bounded away as the buzzer sounded.
“Against a great team like Ohio State, you can’t afford to make mistakes,” Borseth said. “But we played hard.”
Ohio State starting forward Sarah Schulze, averaging 8.7 points and 6.1 points a game, missed the game due to bursitis in a knee. The Buckeyes found out during their shootaround that they wouldn’t have their fifth-leading scorer and No. 2 rebounder. Alison Jackson started in her place.
One huge key was Ohio State’s ability to draw fouls. The Buckeyes were 13 of 19 at the line to Michigan’s 2 of 4.
“These kinds of game determine the difference between a good season, a very good season and a great season,” Foster said. “Quite frankly, when the game is easy and you have more horses than they do and you’re playing at a certain level and the ball’s moving, everybody wins those days. But when it’s not there … we got to the foul line and that determined the game. We got 19 foul shots because we were aggressive when the ball’s not going in the basket and we manufactured points.”
The Wolverines beat a top-10 team the last time they visited Ohio. Hollins scored 22 points, including a layup with 17 seconds left, on Dec. 14 to beat No. 8 Xavier 72-71.
A year ago in Columbus, the Buckeyes ran Michigan out of the gym, 70-50. Later that season, the Wolverines were in it to the end at home before losing to the five-time defending Big Ten champions, 52-44.
They’re obviously narrowing the gap.
“We need to find a way to win games,” Borseth said. “We don’t get paid to get close games.”
Reynolds said the Wolverines are getting closer.
“Last year we were pretty much embarrassed here,” she said. “This just shows us and shows everyone else that we can play in other people’s houses.”
The Buckeyes, alone atop the Big Ten, preferred to look at it as a learning experience.
“It teaches you patience,” Lavender said. “You have to execute on every play. You have to get stops. You have to constantly do the little things. At the end, we just had to get a score and a stop.”
It was a rare touch of adversity for a team that had been rolling.
“Things weren’t going for us the whole game. We weren’t playing our best,” Prahalis said. “It all came down to the end. When it really mattered, we stepped up.”
Kevin Borseth, Michigan head coach
On Jantel Lavender
“We played well against Lavender. She requires a lot of attention down there in the paint. Sam Prahalis finds her even when we think about coming off her. “
On the game
“Our goal was to get to the free throw line, but we didn’t get there too many times. It may have been something we didn’t deserve to get the calls, but it was close.”
Carmen Reynolds, sophomore guard/forward
On the game
“We’re getting closer to where we want to be. We came in here last year and were embarrassed. This year we expect to go into other teams’ home courts and compete. Today we played a good, close game.”
On the team’s strategy
“We wanted to not turnover the ball and attack the rim. I think that’s exactly what we did. It would have been huge to come out of the game with a win though.”
Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On starting slowly against Michigan
“These type of games are the difference between a good season and a great season. Anybody can win when you have everything going for you, but when it’s not there and things aren’t falling for you and you can still win-that’s big. It’s all about how we react. We got to the foul line today and got the manufactured points.”
On playing as a team
“None of this about the individual player. It is all about the team and that includes me as well.”
Samantha Prahalis, sophomore guard
On starting slowly against Michigan
“During the first part of the game things weren’t going well for us. We came out flat and things were just off. When it mattered, we really stepped it up as a team.”
On taking Ohio State’s final shot
“I wasn’t really thinking when I took the final shot for us. It was a little tricky but I got it to fall.”
Jantel Lavender, junior center
On playing in a close-scoring game
“Playing in such a close game is good for us. It really teaches us patience. It shows us that we have to constantly be doing all the little things correctly to stay in it.”
Tayler Hill, freshman guard
On attacking the basket
“Our shots weren’t falling so we had to attack instead of shooting three-pointers. They had good guard play today and it was a good matchup throughout.”