COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis took the blame for suddenly losing her touch at the line.
Brittney Thomas scored 19 points, including a basket to trigger an 8-0 run and two clinching free throws in overtime, to lead Michigan State to a 71-68 victory over the seventh-ranked Buckeyes on Sunday.
“I couldn’t close it out,” said Prahalis, who had hit 47 straight free throws coming in but missed seven of 11 foul shots. “I had a couple times when I could have closed it out with some free throws — and missed them. I think it was three times I could have (won the game). It’s just unacceptable.”
Ohio State (26-4, 14-3) didn’t have much to play for, having already clinched its unprecedented sixth consecutive Big Ten title earlier in the week. Yet the loss might have revealed some trouble ahead.
Asked why his team fell behind by 12 points in a dreary first half, coach Jim Foster said, “That’s a question for discussion. It’s obviously a flaw that we have, something we have to address individually and collectively.”
Jantel Lavender, who led the Buckeyes with 24 points and 11 rebounds, said she was stunned by the loss, before the second-largest crowd (11,827) to witness a women’s game at Value City Arena.
“I’m very surprised,” she said. “I’m just shocked. We should have pulled that out.”
There was a lot that was surprising. The Buckeyes had won their last five games overall and came in 18-0 at home. Shooting 46 percent from the field in their first 29 games, they mustered just 39 percent. Two weeks after setting a Big Ten record with 17 3-pointers made in a game, they were just 3 for 15 behind the arc. And they also had 22 turnovers, many of them unforced when a player just threw a pass over a teammate’s head.
Ohio State trailed by 13 points with under 10 minutes left, but had two shots to win the game in regulation — an off-balance Prahalis drive and a tip by Sarah Schulze. The Buckeyes also had a look at a tying 3 at the end of overtime, but Schulze’s attempt was short and wide of the mark.
At the same time, Michigan State (19-8, 10-6) added a third victory this season over a Top-10 team and played with emotion and purpose.
“It’s always a big game to get ready for postseason where you’re going to be away and you’re going to have huge crowds that are rooting against you, so to just step up to the plate and have multiple players step up and be ready to play, it’s a win we needed,” said Thomas, who hit 7 of 11 shots from the field and added five assists and seven rebounds.
Coach Suzy Merchant said she hoped the victory was a stepping stone for a team that has had more than its share of ups and downs this season.
“To do it on the road and in this environment, hopefully we can build off of that,” she said.
Ohio State led by four in the overtime — its largest lead of the game — before Thomas hit a perimeter jumper. Porsche Poole scored on two drives (the second with 1:10 left in the overtime giving the Spartans the lead for good) with Aisha Jefferson adding a bank shot with 33 seconds remaining.
After Prahalis, who had 17 points, hit a 3-pointer, Thomas made two foul shots with 15.3 seconds left to set up the drama at the end.
Lykendra Johnson added 14 points and Kalisha Keane 10 for the Spartans, who have won four in a row and eight of nine.
But it was Thomas’ play which guided the Spartans.
“I give that Thomas kid a lot of credit,” Foster said. “She made a lot of clutch shots and just did what she had to do. She’s essentially their ballhandler, their only ballhandler. But she got the ball in position and knocked down shots.”
Thomas said there was never a point where she thought the Spartans wouldn’t win. In fact, she had to tell the Spartans to put a damper on their enthusiasm.
“We all had that energy of that Adrenalin going so when we came out of timeouts, (I said) ‘Let’s calm down. We’re good. We’re right where we need to be. Just kind of settle down and play hard,” she said.
Meanwhile, despite the Big Ten title, the Buckeyes have work to do.
“We have to play extremely hard every game,” said Lavender, the Big Ten’s player of the year the past two seasons. “We need to play for seeding as well. I don’t think it’s just Michigan State coming in here needing a signature win.”
Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On whether or not Michigan State was different last game
“They adjusted how they played relative to penetration. Our guards obviously need to step up. We cannot depend on one guard penetrating. I give Brittney Thomas credit. She made a lot of clutch shots and did what she had to do. She played a good game.”
On Ohio State’s turnovers
“They were excitable turnovers. It was a very uneven game and not a lot of flow to it. You have to adjust to that and learn to make plays. You cannot play on adrenaline and throw the ball so hard it goes into the bleachers. You have to learn to deliver.”
On Amber Stokes’ play
“She just has got to figure out where to be sometimes. It is not like she has played a lot of minutes. Her ability to get the ball to the basket is something we need from the guard position. We can’t depend on one person to do that all the time. Hopefully she will learn, grow and take advantage of opportunities.”
On whether he liked his defense
“In the second half, sure. In the first half, it was not like they were running away. We were not making the play at the end of the possession and playing twenty-two seconds of real good defense and then getting beat on the drive knowing that they were going to have to drive because the shot clock was running down. For the shot Thomas made to tie it, Amber played excellent defense and she just made the shot. That happens.”
On Jantel creating baskets
“She has played very well the last four or five games and is playing more with a rhythm and a lot more comfortable. I think she is healthy and starting to play better.”
Jantel Lavender, junior center
On what led to the loss
“We need to work on becoming a 40-minute team. We didn’t take care of things in the first half and we can’t continue to put ourselves in a situation where it’s hard for the team to win.”
On if there was a possible letdown after clinching the Big Ten Championship
“Regardless of anything else, we have to play hard and get after it from the beginning of the game. We still need to play for seeding in the NCAA tournament.”
On the crowd
“It was really nice. The fans are great. Having 11,000 people cheering is a lot and creates a fun atmosphere.”
Sarah Schulze, junior forward
On the missed shot at the end of regulation
“It was close. I was lying on the ground, looking up and saw it bounce off the rim.”
On Michigan State’s perimeter defense
“They guarded the three well. It was difficult to get open for any shots today.”
On the missed 3-pointer near the end of overtime
“There might have been contact on my elbow because the shot didn’t come off right. I knew the clock was running down so I rushed it a little. I didn’t feel right when it left my hand.”
Samantha Prahalis, sophomore guard
On the loss
“I just couldn’t close it out at the end. I didn’t make free throws. Going 4-of-11 from the free throw line is unacceptable.”
On the impact of Amber Stokes
“Amber put a lot of pressure on their point guard. After she hit the three-pointer, I thought we could put the game away.”
Suzy Merchant, Michigan State head coach
On Brittney Thomas
“We had talked about what a great job they do in the back court. You have to watch the tip behind and make them pay for gambling so much. She’s not a kid that says ‘give it to me.’ She does a great job of taking what is there. She took the shots that were given to her.”
On what this win does for Michigan State
“It is a big win, especially to do it on the road in this environment. Hopefully we can build off of that.”
On Michigan State guard Porsche Poole
“Porsche has been playing extremely well off of the bench. She is doing a very good job of taking it to the basket. She needs the minutes. She is a lot like Stokes and has not been in during late game situations.”
On how they were guarding Ohio State
“Ball screen action is what they do best. We were switching ball screens and if they went around us, we were not going to follow them. A two is better than a three.”