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Jantel Lavender leads Ohio State with 20 points as Buckeyes reach Sweet 16

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — It was defense that got Ohio State into the regional semifinals.

Jantel Lavender had 20 points and Ohio State shut out Mississippi State over the final 6:43 and scored its final 10 points on free throws to win 64-58 Monday night in an NCAA second-round game.

“At this time of year, defense is what’s going to win games, with this much intensity and this much on the line,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “The shots some days are going to be there, some days not. But your defense can be there at all times.”

The Buckeyes (29-5) advance to the Berkeley regional. It will be a sweet trip for a team belittled after being knocked out in the first round against a worse-seeded opponent each of the past two years.

“We are excited and ecstatic because we got past these first two rounds,” Lavender said. “We played extremely hard tonight. It’s a feeling of not satisfaction but excitement, to get past these first two rounds and now focus on the next two games.”

Star Allen added 12 points and 10 rebounds, saving her best for last. She rebounded a missed free throw with 15 seconds left and then added two clinching free throws for Ohio State, which has won 10 in a row and 15 of 17.

“Coach keeps telling me he needs my energy,” Allen said. “I just thought I had an extra fire in my belly.”

Tysheka Grimes scored 20 of her 22 points in the opening half for Mississippi State (23-10), which was seeking the school’s first trip out of the second round. Alexis Rack added 19 points for the Lady Bulldogs, who led 58-54 after Rack’s three-point play with 6:43 left.

But the Buckeyes ran off the game’s final 10 points.

“[It was] the little things down the stretch,” Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said. “Unforced turnovers, and a couple of block-outs, and that changed a four-point lead into where we didn’t score the rest of the game.”

The teams traded baskets and the lead for much of the second half before the Lady Bulldogs appeared to gain an edge.

Down 54-53 after Lavender followed her own miss, Armelie Lumanu drove the right baseline for a layup with 7:12 left. After Allen missed a spinning jumper at the other end, the Lady Bulldogs gave the ball to Rack. She sprinted past a high pick and hit a layup in traffic while being fouled. The free throw put Mississippi State ahead 58-54 with 6:43 left.

But that was to be the end of the offense for the Lady Bulldogs.

“Our minds changed a little bit,” Fanning said. “When you have the turnovers that we had that were self-inflicted, it’s clear that we played nervous. We missed shots that typically draw iron. I just don’t think we were composed down the stretch.”

Prompted by a large proportion of the 4,842 in attendance at Nationwide Arena, the Buckeyes came back.

Maria Moeller hit two foul shots and Sarah Schulze added one. Prahalis then drove the length of the court and was fouled by Grimes with 3:35 left. She hit the second to tie it again at 58.

After a MSU turnover, Ohio State got it in to Lavender but she was fouled in a dust-up inside with Donnisha Tate, called for her fifth foul on the play. Lavender hit both shots for a 60-58 Ohio State lead.

The teams then traded misses and missed opportunities.

Rack drove the right baseline and was bumped by Lavender with 28.4 seconds left, but was called for traveling.

Prahalis, a 78-percent shooter at the line, was fouled with 23.9 seconds left and made them both.

A turnover then ruined the Lady Bulldogs’ shot at cutting into the lead when Mary Kathryn Govero was called for carrying the ball with 15.3 seconds left. Schulze was fouled and missed both shots, but Allen grabbed the rebound on the second and later hit two foul shots.

“It feels good. It’s a team thing,” Allen said. “I feel excellent because it’s been a struggle the past couple of years.”

Foster said he didn’t feel vindicated for those early losses the last two years.

“I knew I had a good basketball team this year,” he said.

Then he added, “I’ve said from the beginning this team would be different.”