Lavender’s free throw with 6.2 seconds to go is difference as Ohio State sweeps regular season and postseason conference crowns; Lavender named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Ohio State didn’t need any more award-winning performances Sunday. They just wanted to win a Big Ten tournament title.
Now the gritty Buckeyes are heading to the NCAA tournament with both.
Jantel Lavender made one of two free throws with 6.2 seconds left to give No. 12 Ohio State a 67-66 lead, and the Buckeyes’ relentless defensive pressure never gave Purdue a good look at a buzzer-beating winner, sending some Ohio State players leaping into the arms of teammates.
“I don’t come to the tournament looking to be the MVP,” said Lavender, who added that award to her two conference player of the year titles. “I just come out and play for my teammates, and we all come to play for each other.”
Lavender needed all of her teammates’ contributions to clinch the league’s automatic NCAA bid, even after posting her 23rd double-double of the season with 25 points and 13 rebounds and breaking the tournament record for rebounds. She had 41 in three games.
Yes, the sophomore center was virtually unstoppable in the closing minutes, but if not for Ohio State’s other two title holders — Samantha Prahalis and Shavelle Little — the Buckeyes’ may have come up empty again.
After Lavender connected on the free throw, Little, the defensive player of the year, forced a tie-up with 1.1 seconds left. Then Prahalis, the league’s freshman of the year, forced Purdue guard Brittany Rayburn to change her shot, which never got to the rim.
Game, set and title to the regular-season champion Buckeyes (27-5) — although the two-time defending tourney champs didn’t think it was so clear-cut.
“The one where FahKara (Malone) was on the ground and got mugged? Got hugged, sorry,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said, referring to the tie-up. “We were going to get it in her hands and she was going to create. She was totally going to create a shot for herself or Lakisha (Freeman) or Brittany.”
After making two straight first-round exits in the NCAA tournament and an inexplicable loss to Illinois in last year’s Big Ten quarterfinals, the Buckeyes wanted to show everyone they had learned.
Did they ever.
Ohio State delivered early knockout punches against Illinois in the quarterfinals and Iowa in the semis, and looked like it might do the same to Purdue (22-10) after outscoring the Boilermakers 8-0 in an early two-minute span.
Instead, the Buckeyes wound up showing selection committee members they possess the mettle to win close ones, too.
They survived a series of runs, lead changes and foul trouble that made for an entertaining game. They beat the Big Ten’s best tourney team in a building it had made its pseudo-home court. They ignored the partisan Boilermakers crowd and even blemished Versyp’s perfect three-year tournament record at Purdue. She’s now 8-1 as the Boilermakers’ coach in the tourney.
And the reason was as obvious as the 6-foot-4 woman in the post.
Lavender took over when Prahalis and Star Allen were in foul trouble, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the final 20 minutes. She also broke two ties by out-muscling Purdue’s defenders for rebounds and then scoring on putbacks in the last 3 1/2 minutes.
So when the Buckeyes needed the tiebreaker with 12.2 seconds left, there was no doubt where Ohio State was going.
“Yes, we wanted to get the ball to her,” coach Jim Foster said.
Lavender made the play work by catching a pass about five feet from the basket, spinning toward the baseline and drawing a foul on Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. After Lavender missed the first free throw, the real game began.
“I think a lot of times, players will tank the second one after missing the first, ” Foster said.
Not Lavender. She made it, allowing the Buckeyes to play straight up defense.
With Rayburn scoring 20 points and Wisdom-Hylton having 15, the Boilermakers appeared to have plenty of options to produce a second straight title-clinching winner.
Ohio State, though, played it perfectly and took home more hardware.
“We were trying to look for a lob for Danielle, but it’s difficult when you have a 6-6 kid guarding Lakisha out of bounds,” Versyp said. “So the only option right there was really a desperation with Brittany and they’re not going to call a foul in the last six seconds of a game.”