PITTSBURGH — Turns out the turkey sandwiches bothered Ohio State a lot more than St. Francis did.
Jantel Lavender dominated inside for Ohio State with 23 points and 16 rebounds against smaller St. Francis, Pa., and the second-seeded Buckeyes opened up a 27-point lead before halftime during a 93-59 rout in a first-round NCAA Dayton Regional game on Sunday.
Lavender, the three-time Big Ten player of the year, starting guard Tayler Hill, three reserves and numerous team personnel became ill after eating sandwiches following practice Saturday and missed the pregame shootaround, but most of the Buckeyes (31-4) recovered by game time.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” coach Jim Foster said.
He probably didn’t expect this. Instead of looking sluggish or ill at ease, the Buckeyes reeled off runs of 11-0, 19-2 and 13-3 before halftime, taking control from the start and never allowing the Red Flash (17-15) to build any confidence or momentum.
“I’m feeling OK,” Lavender said. “I was a little woozy at the start, but I can play.”
She certainly can. The Red Flash had no one who could defend the 6-foot-4 Lavender’s post-up moves, Johnson’s outside shooting or point guard Samantha Prahalis’ playmaking. Johnson ended with 18 points, going 4 of 8 from 3-point range, while Prahalis had 14 points, 13 assists and six rebounds.
It didn’t take long.
Johnson hit a pair of 3-pointers and Sarah Schulze made another as the Buckeyes seized a 11-0 lead with only 2:11 gone. The Buckeyes led 32-9 at the midpoint of the first half, and they made it 51-24 late in the half before taking a 55-28 halftime lead. They didn’t let up even when their reserves began coming off the bench, even though guard Maria Moeller was limited to two minutes by the illness.
Shavelle Little, a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, made all six of her shots while scoring 14 points and getting five steals, displaying the kind of depth the Buckeyes will need if they meet defending national champion Connecticut in the regional final next weekend.
“She gave us a lot of energy, poking at the ball, getting loose balls and rebounds, and it really helped a lot,” Prahalis said.
Maybe it was Foster’s warning that the Red Flash resembled Iowa that made his players determined to never let St. Francis into the game. Ohio State scrambled from 16 points down to beat Iowa 66-64 in the Big Ten tournament.
“They have an opportunity to go pretty far,” Red Flash coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl said. “Even someone who’s not a fan can tell there’s a big difference between a team from the Big Ten and a team from our conference … but we want to be the first team from the Northeast [Conference] to win an NCAA game.”
Britney Hodges and Brittany Lilley scored 16 points and Samantha Leach had 14 for St. Francis, which is 0-10 in the NCAA tournament, losing each time by at least 15 points.
Ohio State, No. 8 in the final AP poll, won for the ninth time in 10 games by shooting 49.3 percent (37 of 75) to the Red Flash’s 28.6 percent (20 of 70) and outrebounded them 55-38. St. Francis was 7 of 30 from 3-point range.
“They were what we expected,” Hodges said. “We knew what we were getting into.”
This was the Red Flash’s first appearance under Fruchtl, a former Penn State star who got her team into the NCAA tournament despite being only fifth-seeded in the Northeast Conference tournament. Only three seasons ago, the Flash won just six games.
The Red Flash took some hope into the game that a near upset of Pitt at the Petersen Events Center earlier this season might show that they could play at this level, but the talented Buckeyes never gave them a chance.
With Pitt missing from the tournament field following a disappointing 16-15 season, only several thousand fans showed up at the 12,508-seat Petersen Center. Pitt bid for the event with the expectation it would reach the tournament.