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COLUMBUS, Ohio — With Illinois sandwiching players around Jantel Lavender every time she touched the ball, No. 5 Ohio State had to find another way to score.

The Buckeyes’ guards were up to the task.

Samantha Prahalis scored 24 points and Maria Moeller came off the bench to hit two critical 3-pointers, pushing the Buckeyes past Illinois 72-61 on Thursday night.

The teams had met just 2 1/2 weeks earlier with Ohio State rolling over the homestanding Illini 76-47 as the 6-foot-4 Lavender, already a two-time Big Ten player of the year, powered her way to 31 points.

“The first game we tried to play one-on-one coverage on Jantel – and she’s All-American,” said Illinois coach Jolette Law. “We tried to double up a little bit more (tonight), tried to make her think a little bit more. We wanted other people to beat us.”

And they did. The Illini held Lavender, averaging 22 points, to just 12 on 3-of-8 shooting from the field. But the rest of the Buckeyes (18-1, 6-0 Big Ten) hit 9 of 18 3-point attempts and almost 50 percent from the field overall.

“They were packing the lane in,” Lavender said. “I saw early opportunities for the guards and the wings to shoot 3-point shots. I saw the double-teams coming early and I was just trying to kick it back out.”

Prahalis, the reigning player of the week in the Big Ten, hit 9 of 14 shots from the field, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc, and added five assists and five steals.

“Right now I feel good when I shoot,” she said. “It’s just going in.”

Moeller is a senior who lost her starting job when the highly recruited, high-energy Prahalis came to campus. She was perfect on both of her 3-point attempts and also both free throws, plus had two assists and two rebounds in 15 minutes.

“I saw my opportunity today,” she said. “I thought I would take advantage of it.”

Coach Jim Foster said he expected Moeller as much.

“She’s done it for four years,” he said. “I don’t know why people are always surprised when she does it. … We’re not surprised.”

Karisma Penn scored 21 points, Whitney Toone 12 and Lydia McCully 10 for the Illini (11-5, 3-3).

The Illini’s Jenna Smith, 12th in the nation in scoring at 20.5 points a game and 10th in rebounds with 11.4, played with a strained left hamstring. She finished with five points and seven rebounds.

Illinois trailed by 17 points in the first half but got as close as three on two occasions in the second half and never buckled. The Illini scored 12 of the first 15 points after the break to cut their deficit to 40-37 with 16 minutes left.

With the Buckeyes leading 42-39, Tayler Hill hit a foul shot, Prahalis made a fast-break pull-up from 12 feet, and Lavender banked in a fallaway while being fouled, converting the three-point play to make it 48-39.

After Illinois regrouped to cut the lead to 50-44 on McCully’s 3-pointer from the left corner, Moeller came in to make 3-pointers on the Buckeyes’ next two possessions to push the lead back to 56-44.

“Moeller knocked down some big shots in the second half,” Law said.

Toone scored eight of Illinois’ 11 points over one span, her 10-foot jumper with 3:55 left keeping her team within reach at 63-57.

But then Prahalis hit a 3-pointer with 2 minutes left to make it 70-59 and give the Buckeyes their 10th win in a row.

“We had to shoot more from the perimeter and we did a very good job of it,” Foster said. “Then at the end, when it loosened up a little bit inside, we’re pounding the ball inside and getting some good results.”

POSTGAME NOTES

  • Ohio State faced Illinois for the second time in 18 days Thursday after posting a 76-47 win over the Illini in Champaign Dec. 28.
  • The Buckeyes lead the all-time series with Illinois, 41-17. Ohio State leads the series 21-3 in games played in Columbus. Illinois has not won in Columbus since Jan. 11, 2001.
  • For the 16th game this season, Ohio State scored 70 or more points. Ohio State is undefeated this season when putting 70 or more points on the board.
  • Ohio State began the game 3-for-3 from the 3-point line to jump out to a 15-4 lead. The Buckeyes shot 50 percent (9-of-18) from beyond the arc, including crucial back-to-back 3-pointers by senior co-captain Maria Moeller at the 9:56 and the 9:24 marks in the second half to lift Ohio State to a 56-44 lead with 9:21 remaining.
  • The Buckeyes are 6-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the 3-point line. In 2009-10, Ohio State’s season high from beyond the arc is a 57.1 percent performance against Wright State Dec. 15, 2009.
  • Ohio State made nine three-pointers against the Illini. The Buckeyes improved to 3-0 this season when making nine 3-pointers.
  • Junior center Jantel Lavender has scored in double figures in all 85 career games – the longest active streak in Division I. She finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes of action.
  • For the second consecutive game, sophomore guard Samantha Prahalis led the Buckeyes in points with 24. She also finished with five assists in 36 minutes.
  • Ohio State is 14-0 at home this season, 122-9 at home under Jim Foster and 95-5 since the start of the 2004-05 season.
  • Ohio State has won 20 straight games at home and 105 of its last 106 at home against unranked opponents.
  • Ohio State is 23-1 in its last 24 regular season games and 28-2 overall dating to last season.
  • Ohio State’s 18-1 start is the best since the 2006-07 season when the Buckeyes started a program-best 24-1.
  • Since the start of Ohio State’s Big Ten championship run in 2004-05, the Buckeyes have gone 78-12 (.867) in Big Ten play.
  • With a record of 199-48 (.804) in his eighth season at Ohio State, coach Foster needs one more win to become just the second coach — men’s or women’s — to win at least 200 games at three different schools (C. Vivian Stringer is the other). Foster spent 13 seasons at St. Joseph’s (248-126) and 11 at Vanderbilt (256-99) and before coaching at Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has made 75 more free throws (310) than opponents have attempted (235) this season. The Buckeyes are 17-1 this season and 59-3 since the start of the 2007-08 season when they outshoot their opponents at the free throw line.

POSTGAME QUOTES

Jolette Law, Illinois head coach
On the game
“Ohio State is the No. 5 team in the country. We tried our best to play 40 minutes. If we played the first half like we came out in the second, we might have pulled it out. Moeller knocked down some big shots, but we didn’t quit. I give both teams credit.”

On the difference between the game tonight vs. the first meeting against Ohio State
“We aren’t making excuses. We were more calm and composed. We executed better. I felt we were in attack mode and weren’t afraid to be the aggressors.”

On senior guard Maria Moeller
“She has killed every season. Whenever I look at tape and see her in the corner I think ‘Oh, God.’ She is definitely one of their X factors. Her range has gotten longer every year. She has four-point range. She steps up and makes big shots.”

Karisma Penn, freshman forward
On the difference between the game tonight vs. the first meeting against Ohio State
“The first game, I did not attack. This game, I made a conscious effort to do everything I could do.”
 
Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On the game
“I thought we played well. We were 9-of-18 from the 3-point line. Sammy did well on the perimeter. There was a lot of physical play down low.”

On Maria Moeller
“She has done it for four years. I don’t know why people are surprised. We aren’t. That’s the way seniors should play.”

Maria Moeller, senior guard
On the way she plays against Illinois
“I do not have anything against them. I saw my opportunities and I took advantage of them.”
 
On her three pointers
“After my first shot, I had more confidence and Sammy found me for the second one so I took it.”
 
On working on her range
“Coach does have me working on my range. The further I am from the three point line, the more arch I get on my shot and it helps my short game too.”
 
On the toughness of this game
“It was really tough. We had to fight through it. These kinds of games make us tougher and we can look back at this game and improve.”
 
Samantha Prahalis, sophomore guard
On the difference between the game tonight vs. the first meeting against Ohio State
 “It was not much different. I was not shooting as well, but right now I feel good when I shoot.”
 
On Maria and her three pointers
“The first time I was driving and kicked it to her and the second time I drove the baseline and saw her and I knew she made the first one so I kicked it out to her again. Having her out there helps a lot. She is always calm and has her head on her shoulders. It helps knowing I can always go to her.”
 
Jantel Lavender, junior center
On the difference between the way she was guarded this game and the game played at Illinois
“It was one-on-one there. This game they were packing the lane and I saw the double teams coming early so I wanted to shoot it back out. I was making sure I was making good passes so others could get shots.”
 
On the difference between the first and second halves
“I was a little more open the second half because they had to respect the three-point shots. We knew we had to make adjustments and tighten up. They came out extremely hard in the second half.”