COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — There’s no looking back for No. 18 Ohio State.
Samantha Prahalis scored 18 points and Jantel Lavender had 17 points and 10 rebounds, leading the way Sunday as the 18th-ranked Buckeyes regrouped from back-to-back losses to beat Northwestern 81-55.
“We left the Iowa game in Iowa City,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said of Thursday night’s second straight road defeat. “We left it there. We came back and we’ve had a couple days of practice. This team does a very good job of dealing with today. They’re fun to be in the gym with. They practice hard. It’s just an enjoyable experience. (They say) ‘That’s over, what’s next?”‘
The Buckeyes (20-5, 11-3 Big Ten) moved back into a tie for first place with Michigan State in the conference with four games remaining. They are gunning for a fifth straight Big Ten title.
“It’s a major goal,” Lavender said of the drive for five. “It’s something you should cherish as a team and we shouldn’t take it for granted when we play any team. We have to come out and protect it every time we play. If we play how we played tonight, reversing the ball and the offense is flowing and we’re playing really solid defense, then we’re definitely hard to stop.”
Star Allen added 13 points and Brittany Johnson 12 for the Buckeyes, who had won 13 of their last 14 games before dropping road games at Michigan State and Iowa last week.
Northwestern (6-19, 2-12) managed just four field goals in the opening half while falling behind 39-17.
“I knew they were going to try to prove a point, to prove they’re better than how they played against Michigan State and Iowa,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “They just played really well today. And they shot the ball really well.”
The Buckeyes hit half of their 16 3-pointers and shot 47 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Wildcats couldn’t find the hoop. They made just 19 percent (4 of 21) of their shots from the field in the first half and finished at 26 percent (15 of 57).
“On offense we got into a flow and moved the ball well,” said Prahalis, a freshman. “Of course, we got a lot of deflections and steals in this game, too. But on offense we were into a flow the whole game.”
Brittany Orban had 25 points — almost double her career high of 13 — for the Wildcats, who lost their 17th straight game to Ohio State. They have dropped nine of their last 10 games overall.
Amy Jaeschke, who came in leading Northwestern in scoring (14.6), didn’t score in the first half and finished with four points in 34 minutes.
“She got pushed up the lane a lot and got a little bit out of her rhythm,” McKeown said. “She was stagnant and we stood around a lot. That doesn’t help.”
This one was over early, and not just because it had a strange 11 a.m. start dictated by the Big Ten’s television network. Ahead 8-4 after the opening 4 minutes, the Buckeyes scored 14 of the next 16 points over the next 7 1/2 minutes while the Wildcats missed all four of their shots from the field and committed seven turnovers.
After Orban had a four-point play to slow the surge, Ohio State ran off the next 11 points to swell the lead to 33-10.
Ohio State shooting guard Ashlee Trebilcock sat out to rest an achy right knee, ending a streak of 20 straight starts. Johnson started in her place and hit an early 3 to touch off Ohio State’s first spurt.
The win set up a wild finish in the Big Ten. Michigan State has home games remaining against Michigan and Minnesota, with road games at Indiana and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes play at Minnesota on Thursday and Indiana Sunday before returning home to play Wisconsin and Penn State.
“We’re still getting better. We still can get better,” Foster said. “I don’t know how many teams can say that at this time of year.”
The win moves Ohio State into a tie for first place with Michigan State at 11-3. The Spartans are idle this weekend.
The victory gives Ohio State its seventh-consecutive 20-win season. It also marks the 23rd of Coach Jim Foster’s career and his 10th-consecutive overall dating back to his years at Vanderbilt. The seven 20-wins seasons also is the most by any coach at Ohio State.
The 15 first-half points by the Wildcats were the fewest allowed by Ohio State in a half this season and the fewest since Colgate scored 13 in the first half Nov. 24, 2007 at the Buckeye Classic in St. John Arena.
Ohio State leads the all-time series with Northwestern 35-15 and 16-6 in games played in Columbus.
The Buckeyes have won the last 17 meetings with the Wildcats overall. The Wildcats’ last win over the Buckeyes was Jan. 17, 1999 in Evanston. They have not won in Columbus since Feb. 7, 1997.
Jantel Lavender recorded 17 points and had 10 rebounds for her Big Ten-leading 17th double-double of the season. It is the 30th of her career, tying for the most among active Big Ten players in only her sophomore season. Ohio State is 24-6 when Lavender records a double-double.
Lavender has scored in double figures in all 56 career games, the fourth-longest active streak in Division I.
Lavender now was 1,078 career points and needs 117 more to break Katie Smith’s record of 1,194 points in her first two seasons as a Buckeye.
Samantha Prahalis dished out four more assists and now has 140 on the season. She is on pace to break Kim Wilburn’s Ohio State freshman record of 168 assists set during the 2002-03 season.
Prahalis finished the game with a season-high 18 points and broke out of a shooting slump with a season-best four 3FG’s.
Junior Shavelle Little recorded four more steals, her 12th game with three or more.
Ohio State’s defense held Northwestern’s top scorer, Amy Jaeschke (14.6 ppg) to just four points, tying her season-low. They also limited Northwestern to just four first-half field goals en route to a 39-17 halftime lead.
The 81 points by the Buckeyes is the second-highest total of the season. They scored 92 in the win over Army Nov. 16.
Ohio State is 16-0 this season when leading at the half.
Ohio State has won 74 of its last 86 Big Ten regular-season games and 40 of its last 42 at home.
Ohio State is 14-2 at home this season and 79-5 since the start of the 2004-05 season. They are 106-9 all-time at home in the Foster era.
The Buckeyes are 16-1 this season when they outrebound the opposition. Its only loss was at now-No. 4 Auburn.
Former Buckeye and two-time All-American Tracey Hall Yarbrough had her No. 44 jersey retired at halftime. Hall becomes just the second women’s basketball player at Ohio State to have her number retired after Katie Smith had her No. 30 retired in January 2001. Hall played for the Buckeyes from 1985-88, earning first team All-America honors in her last two seasons in becoming the Big Ten’s first two-time Kodak All-American. Hall was the Big Ten freshman of the year and a second team All-Big Ten performer in 1985. She went on to claim the conference’s top honor in 1986 and ’87, while being selected first team All-Big Ten in 1986, ’87 and ’88.
Joe McKeown, Northwestern head coach
On the game overall
“After having two losses in a row we were hoping that this game would be like the game in Evanston. During the second half, Ohio State got a double-digit lead and we tried to bring it down to 5 or 6, but Ohio State started making their shots right away.”
On how to play successfully
“Unfortunately, we did not get a lot of help today and since we cannot score a lot of points, to be successful we have to play well defensively.”
On Ohio State’s defense
“Ohio State pressed us the full 40 minutes. We wanted our pace to be like the pace in Evanston, but Ohio State got their pace up to where they wanted it. I was surprised.”
Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On the game
“I think defensively we played hard and used our heads. We are doing a better job of moving the ball. Sometimes we dribble too much. We have to get up and get after people defensively.”
On focusing on the game
“This team does a good job of dealing with today. We left the Iowa game in Iowa. They practice hard. We are a young team and we’re lucky we get the opportunity to get better before Minnesota. Not many teams get that opportunity this late in the season.”
On Jantel’s defense
“She held her ground which forced a few more shots. There are games within a game. Every player has responsibilities. They have individual match-ups. I thought the execution was much better today.”
Samantha Prahalis, freshman guard
On the offensive
“I think offensively we got into a flow. We moved the ball better and were into a flow the entire game.”
On her shooting
“I stopped thinking so much and stayed focused on staying with my shot.”
Jantel Lavender, sophomore forward
On another Big Ten title
“It’s a major goal of ours. I think it’s something to cherish as a team. We shouldn’t take it for granted. I think if we play solid defense and get into an offensive flow, we’ll be hard to stop.”
On Amy Jaeschke
“She’s a great post player. When she gets deep, she’s very effective. I tried to be more physical with her early so that she wouldn’t get into an offensive flow.”
Brittany Johnson, sophomore guard
On her rebounding
“My goal was to get 10 rebounds. I got six. I worked on reversing the ball and running the floor. I just wanted to do anything that would help my team.”
On shooting the ball
“When we move the ball, we get more open shots. We have to be ready to shoot the ball because we know Jantel will get doubled or tripled teamed.”