COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — It was a big moment for Samantha Prahalis. She didn’t waste it.
Making her first appearance in an NCAA game, Ohio State’s dynamic freshman point guard scored a career-high 23 points to go with seven assists and lead the Buckeyes past Sacred Heart 77-63 on Saturday in the first round.
“I love it. This is something I’ve been waiting for my entire life — to play in the NCAA,” said the 5-foot-7 speedster.
Third-seeded Ohio State (28-5) advanced to Monday night’s second round against 11th-seeded Mississippi State (23-9), a 71-63 winner over Texas in the day’s first game.
Prahalis took care of business outside and in the open court. Jantel Lavender did the rest. The Big Ten’s leading scorer, rebounder and player of the year the last two seasons had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
But Lavender could only talk about Prahalis.
“She was awesome,” Lavender said. “She showed how she can get past people. She showed her talent because that’s her type of game and she was really effective.”
Sacred Heart coach Ed Swanson had seen Prahalis playing since she was a little kid in Commack, N.Y.
“She’s a special player, and she played like it today,” he said. “She’s a tough, tough guard and she’s a winner. She’s got that swagger. She really caused havoc with our guards.”
Ashlee Trebilcock had 13 points and Maria Moeller added a career-high 12 for the Buckeyes, the regular-season and tournament champions of the Big Ten. The win was their ninth in a row.
Coach Jim Foster felt vindicated. He reconstructed his team after first-round losses the last two years and a second-round upset loss as a No. 1 seed three years ago. He has tried to stress running and transition and has recruited players to fill those roles — players like Prahalis and Lavender.
“In halfcourt basketball, it’s very difficult to win in a tournament environment,” he said. “You can’t control fouls, double- and triple-teams. You’ve got to be able to get some easy baskets. Pushing the tempo is good.”
He added, “Seventy-seven points in an NCAA tournament game. I’d have to look back to see when any of my teams did that.”
Freshman Callan Taylor scored a career-high 24 points for Sacred Heart (25-8), champions of the Northeast Conference. Alisha Apo added 14 points.
The Pioneers trailed just 46-44 with 12:50 left, but foul trouble and the Buckeyes’ transition game helped Ohio State pull away.
Ohio State, playing before a hometown crowd, hit 21 of- 29 free throws to just three of six for Sacred Heart.
Ohio State led by as many as 14 before taking a 42-30 halftime lead, but the Pioneers wouldn’t wilt. Lindsey Gibson’s shot capped a 7-0 run to start the second half, and Sacred Heart drew as close as 46-44 on Kaitlin Sowinski’s short jumper over Lavender with 12:50 left.
“No, I wasn’t worried,” Prahalis said. “They’re a good team and they’re not going to go away. We knew that. We just had to grind it out and keep going.”
Foul trouble plagued the Pioneers.
Sowinski, their top inside player and second-leading scorer at 16 points a game, picked up her fourth foul midway through the second half and was limited in stopping the 6-foot-4 Lavender.
Trebilcock gave the Buckeyes some breathing room with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 49-44. Moeller then followed with one of her career-best four 3-pointers, and Ohio State began to pull away.
During one span in the final minutes, Prahalis assisted on three consecutive baskets in less than a minute, all three coming in full flight down the court. The third was a no-look pass to Trebilcock for an easy layup in transtion.
“Once we started reversing the ball, calming down and playing at tempo, our shots started falling,” Lavender said.
The loss ended Sacred Heart’s 21-game winning streak — and one of the more amazing stories in the tournament. The Pioneers opened the season 0-5 before going on the second-longest tear in the country, trailing only No. 1 and unbeaten in-state rival Connecticut (33-0) — which lies just 70 miles away from Sacred Heart’s campus in Fairfield.
No. 3 seed Ohio State (28-5) 77, vs. No. 14 seed Sacred Heart (25-8) 63
NCAA First Round Berkeley Region
March 21, 2009
No. 3 seed Ohio State advances to the second round and will face No. 11 seed Mississippi State at 7 p.m. Monday on ESPN2. It will be the first meeting between the two schools.
Ohio State is 19-17 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State is in the second round of the tournament for the 12th time in its history and the second time in the last four years.
The 77 points were the second-most points scored by an Ohio State team in the NCAA Tournament in the Foster era (since 2003). The Buckeyes scored 86 in a first round win over Holy Cross in 2005.
The Buckeyes have now won nine in a row and 14 of their last 16.
Ohio State is 4-0 all-time against Sacred Heart.
The three first-half turnovers by Ohio State were the fewest in a first half this season and the second-fewest in a half overall. The Buckeyes committed just two turnovers in the second half in a win over Dayton in November.
Head coach Jim Foster is 30-22 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 6-6 at Ohio State.
Foster improves his overall record at Ohio State to 180-45 and 684-271 overall.
Ohio State is 22-0 this year when leading at the half.
Ohio State is 23-1 this season when they make more free throws than its opponent and 41-1 over the last two seasons when accomplishing that feat.
Freshman Samantha Prahalis dished out seven more assists and now has 193 on the season, improving on her Ohio State freshman record.
Prahalis recorded season highs with 23 points and 10 made free throws.
Sophomore Jantel Lavender finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds for her 24th double-double of the season and the 37th of her career. The Buckeyes are 31-6 over the past two years when Lavender gets a double-double.
Lavender’s 37 career double-doubles are the most among active Big Ten players in only her sophomore season.
Lavender has scored 11 or more points in all 64 career games, the second-longest active streak in Division I.
Maria Moeller scored a career-high 13 points on 4-of -7 shooting.
Lavender moved into 18th place on Ohio State’s all-time scoring list with 1,240 points, passing Marscilla Packer who scored 1,228 points from 2005-08. She needs eight points to move into 17th place.
Ohio State’s bench outscored Sacred Heart’s 26-9.