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Prahalis sets Ohio State Big Ten tournament and freshman season record with nine assists

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ohio State kept hearing the echoes of past tournament struggles.

There was the first-round loss to Marist in the NCAA tournament two years ago. There was the first-round loss to Florida State in last year’s NCAA tourney. And, then, of course, there was that quarterfinal loss to Illinois in last year’s Big Ten tournament.

On Friday night, the Buckeyes silenced everyone with a dominating performance.

Two-time Big Ten player of the year Jantel Lavender had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Brittany Johnson finished with 16 points, leading the 12th-ranked Buckeyes to a 70-53 victory in the quarterfinal rematch with Illinois.

“I’m sure in the back of their minds, they were like ‘We’re not going to let what happened last year happen this year,’ ” Illinois coach Jolette Law said. “They came out focused.”

Did they ever.

Now the Buckeyes (25-5) must do it all over again in Saturday’s semifinals against either Iowa or Minnesota, who were playing Friday night’s game.

But if Ohio State wanted to send a message with its first tourney win, it was this: The Big Ten’s best regular-season team is also going to prove it is the Big Ten’s best postseason team.

“We’ve been focusing on being a 40-minute team instead of being a 20-minute team,” Lavender said after her 21st double-double this season. “I think that today, we really showed that, and we came out for two hard halves.”

Lavender led the charge with her 61st consecutive game of double-figure scoring while moving within 20 points of breaking Katie Smith’s school record for points by a sophomore.

Plus, she had help.

Star Allen finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, and the league’s freshman of the year, Samantha Prahalis, had six points and nine assists despite missing the final nine minutes of the first half because of foul trouble.

The Buckeyes were almost as good defensively. Illinois shot just 30.8 percent from the field in the first half and 33.3 percent for the game.

Just what the way coach Jim Foster drew it up.

“What gave me a comfortable feeling was how hard we were playing on defense,” he said. “We were just really digging and getting effort. The shots they did make, they had to work really hard to get.”

Jenna Smith led the Illini (10-21) with 23 points and eight rebounds, Lydia McCully had 14 points and Lacey Simpson 12. Only one other Illinois player, Macie Blinn, scored all night. Blinn finished with four.

It was telling of how lopsided the game really was.

The Buckeyes hit their first 10 shots, going more than 7 minutes without a miss while building a 22-7 lead. Then the Buckeyes went on a 12-2 run late in the half to extend the lead to 40-14.

By halftime, the Buckeyes were holding a 41-19 lead and still shooting 66.7 percent. They were on pace to break their own single-game tournament record for field-goal percentage (60.8 in 2007) and nearly on pace to break Iowa’s record of 37 field goals in a tourney game.

“Any time you go on a run with the amount of shots we made in a row, and the percentage we were shooting, sometimes that makes you very nervous because you know it’s going to change,” Foster said.

Not this night.

After Illinois closed to 43-27 early in the second half, the Buckeyes answered with a 14-2 run to rebuild a 57-29 lead. Game over.

Ohio State wound up 31-of-54 from the field, 57.4 percent — matching the sixth-best mark in tourney history — and temporarily ended any discussion of another postseason flop.

“We knew we had lost to them last year and it was our chance to get some revenge against them,” Lavender said. “I think we came out extremely focused and ready to play.”

Postgame Notes

 Top-seed Ohio State advances to Saturday’s semifinal round and will play No. 4 Iowa at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on the Big Ten Network. 
 Ohio State is 21-13 all-time in the Big Ten tournament.
 Head coach Jim Foster is 10-5 all-time in the Big Ten tournament.
 The 17-point victory was Ohio State’s third-largest margin of victory in the history of the tournament. Its largest all-time is 24 points when the Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin in the 2005 quarterfinals, 70-46.
 Ohio State made its first 10 shots to start the game and 11 of its first 12 (91.7 percent).
 The Buckeyes shot 66.7 percent in the opening half and 57.4 for the game.
 Nine different Buckeyes scored in the opening half. 
 Ohio State leads the all-time series with Illinois 39-17 and won all three meetings this season. 
 Ohio State is 19-0 this year when leading at the half.
 Ohio State is 9-3 this season on the road.
 Freshman Samantha Prahalis dished out nine more assists and now has 176 on the season. She breaks Kim Wilburn’s Ohio State freshman record of 168 assists set during the 2002-03 season.
 Prahalis’ nine assists also sets an Ohio State Big Ten tournament record, breaking the old mark of eight which also was set by Wilburn against Penn State March 9, 2003.
 Prahalis has 17 games this year with six or more assists and four with nine or more.
 Sophomore Jantel Lavender finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds for her 21st double-double of the season and the 34th of her career. The Buckeyes are 28-6 over the past two years when Lavender gets a double-double.
 Lavender’s 34 career double-doubles are the most among active Big Ten players in only her sophomore season.
 Lavender has scored 10 or more points in all 61 career games, the fourth-longest active streak in Division I.
 Lavender now was 1,175 career points and needs 20 more to break Katie Smith’s record of 1,194 points in her first two seasons as a Buckeye.
 Sophomore Brittany Johnson hit all seven of her shots from the field, including two 3-pointers. She finished with 16 points
 Star Allen finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. In the last six games, Allen has scored 101 points (16.8 ppg).
 Ohio State outscored Illinois 46-16 in the paint and 15-0 in fastbreak points.
 The 31 made field goals by Ohio State ties for the second most this season. 
 The Buckeyes led by as much as 28 points at the 10:35 mark of the second half.