COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jantel Lavender almost went to Tennessee. Four years later, she’ll test herself against the Lady Vols.
Lavender scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half to lead Ohio State past Georgia Tech 67-60 Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Lavender, who extended her NCAA record to 135 consecutive double-figure scoring games, also grabbed 11 rebounds. She dominated in the paint as the Buckeyes advanced to a regional semifinal Saturday against top-seeded Tennessee in Dayton.
“I went on a visit to Tennessee,” Lavender said. “I know a lot of their players and what they do.”
Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said when Lavender got untracked, the game shifted.
“She is the best post player in the country, and one of the top three players,” Joseph said. “She was aggressive in the second half. In the first half, she was a little passive, setting picks outside away from the basket. But then they started getting the ball to her on the block.”
It took a star turn in the second half for the decorated senior — she received her diploma on Sunday — to carry the Buckeyes into the regionals. The Buckeyes have often been criticized for failing to get past the second round in six of the last eight years under coach Jim Foster.
“First, I’m really happy we got past this round,” Lavender said. “Second, to do that we had to really compete in the second half.”
Samantha Prahalis added 16 points and eight assists, and Ashley Adams scored 11 for the fourth-seeded Buckeyes (24-9), who have won 11 in a row.
The game took on all the aspects of hand-to-hand combat at times. The officials twice went to the video to review plays involving players being hit in the face or neck. Once, they assessed a double intentional technical foul.
“They were physical,” Prahalis said. “That was part of their game plan, to be physical. We just tried to keep our composure.”
Down 35-34 after Sasha Goodlett scored inside for the Yellow Jackets with 17:42 left, the Buckeyes — and Lavender — took over the game. Lavender hit an 8-foot jumper for the lead, then scored on consecutive fast-break passes from Prahalis to push the lead to 40-35.
After a basket by Chelsea Regins for Georgia Tech, Lavender had nine points and Tayler Hill the other four in a 13-3 run that stretched the lead to 53-40.
The Yellow Jackets never got closer than seven points again.
“In the first half we made too many long passes. We were discombobulated by the physical play,” Foster said. “It was more of a boxing match — two fighters feeling each other out. But then we got into a rhythm.”
Metra Walthour had 15 points to lead the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets (24-11), who have never advanced past the second round in seven NCAA appearances. Goodlett and Tyaunna Marshall each had 12 points for Georgia Tech, which led by as many as four early in the second half before an unfriendly crowd at Ohio State’s backup home, St. John Arena.
“We knew what we were up against,” said guard Alex Montgomery. “We just didn’t execute the game plan. They were knocking down shots, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Lavender had her 76th career double-double. The only four-time player of the year, male or female, in the Big Ten, she hit 10 of 14 shots from the field, going 8 of 10 in the second half.
The Buckeyes have come up off the mat after losing nine of 14 games during the heart of the season when Foster and even the fans were questioning their toughness.
“Everyone showed our composure and toughness tonight,” Lavender said.
As expected, the Yellow Jackets’ smothering pressure was effective, forcing the Buckeyes into 21 turnovers — matching their season high. But the Buckeyes offset the turnovers by hitting 60 percent of their shots from the field.
Meanwhile, the Jackets hit just 2 of 17 behind the arc (12 percent) and consistently missed open jumpers while shooting 39 percent.
“This late in the tournament, you have to play exceptional,” Joseph said. “Today was just an average day for us.”
Ohio State Postgame Notes
• Ohio State advances to its second Sweet 16 in three years, its third under head coach Jim Foster and its eighth overall. The Buckeyes will face No. 1 seed Tennessee Saturday in Dayton.
• Jim Foster is now 34-24 all-time in the NCAA tournament in his career.
• Ohio State is now 14-2 in its last 16 postseason games (9-0 at the Big Ten tournament and 5-2 in NCAA play).
• Ohio State extended its season-long win streak to 11 games with the victory.
• Ohio State shot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field, including 63.6 in the second half.
• Ohio State is now 8-2 against ranked teams this season and 13-3 against teams that made the NCAA tournament.
• Jantel Lavender recorded her 76th career double-double and her 19th of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
• With her eighth assist, Samantha Prahalis recorded her 700th career assist.
• Ohio State is now 15-2 this season when Prahalis records 7 or more assists.
• Ashley Adams tied an Ohio State NCAA tournament record with five blocked shots.
• The Buckeyes are now 19-3 this year and 88-9 since the start of the 2007-08 season when they make more than their opponents at the line.
• Ohio State has allowed just two teams to shoot 50 percent this season.
• Lavender has now started all 135 games of her career – a school record.
• Monday was first meeting between Ohio State and Georgia Tech.