COLUMBUS, Ohio – No. 9 Michigan State was on a 14-game winning streak and No. 24 Ohio State was down in the dumps and its shooting was so bad it couldn’t throw a basketball into the nearby Olentangy River.
Then each reversed course.
Jantel Lavender had 24 points and the Buckeyes broke out of their rare slump on Sunday to roll over the Spartans, 67-53.
“It was kind of like the bad spell was behind us,” Lavender said. “But our team’s so used to not losing that it was kind of hard to come out of that slump. We had to come together and be accountable for ourselves. … We were all on the same page; we were more cohesive than we had been in past games.”
The Spartans (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten) had not lost since their third game of the season on Nov. 19 at No. 2 Baylor. The Buckeyes (11-6, 2-3), the six-time defending conference champs, had dropped six of nine since a 7-0 start.
“Losing is the worst. We have to scratch our way back,” said Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis, who chipped in with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists. “I hate being (in this slump), but I don’t mind it because it’s either you’re going to fall or you’re going to scratch back up. Tonight we just stuck together. It was like we were playing for each other.”
After weeks of shooting poorly, Ohio State faded near the end to shoot 43 percent from the field while the Spartans had their worst shooting game of the year, hitting just 29 percent – including making only 2 of 23 behind the arc.
“Oh, I knew we were walking into a hornets’ nest,” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant, who was unhappy with about everything about her own team. “They were in a position where, by far, no question, it was a must win. They did what they had to do.”
It was Ohio State’s first victory over a top-10 opponent since beating No. 3 Oklahoma on Dec. 20, 2006.
Down just 33-29 at the break, Michigan State missed its first nine shots of the second half. When Ohio State’s Tayler Hill, who finished with 17 points, and Brittany Johnson hit 3-pointers, all of a sudden the lead was 39-29.
The Spartans continued to misfire from all over the court. Their cause was further hurt when center Lykendra Johnson picked up her fourth foul on a reach-in 30 feet from the basket with 13:41 left.
The Buckeyes built the lead to 17 before cruising to the finish.
It has been a curious collapse for Ohio State. With five starters back from a team that went 31-5 a year ago, the season got off to a promising start and then – nothing went right.
Just over 5 weeks ago, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 6 after a 7-0 start. Since then they had lost six of nine while suffering through some miserable shooting. They were shooting 49 percent from the field and 29 percent behind the arc while unbeaten; since then they were 10 percentage points worse from the field and at 22 percent on 3-pointers.
Coach Jim Foster said the difference against Michigan State was the Buckeyes finally hit some shots and got tougher.
“I hate going through this. I hate it,” Foster added. “But I also like part of it. Because you get to measure yourself, measure your friends, measure your character. It’s so easy to jump off. It’s only the resilient who fight back. So we started that.”
Ohio State lost starting forward Sarah Schulze to a knee injury in the first half. Foster said he was not optimistic about what the medical tests will show.
Michigan State, which was led by Cetera Washington’s 12 points, was trying to set a school record with its 11th straight Big Ten win. Instead, the Spartans now must regroup.
“I definitely felt like that fire and fire wasn’t there today, as it had been,” Merchant said. “We were competing and really getting after it at the defensive end and I thought our frustration with the offense led to poor defensive execution as well.”
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes may have learned something.
“We were desperate for a win, by any means necessary,” Lavender said. “We know how we have to play from now on, the energy you have to play with.”
• Ohio State picked up its first win over a top 10 opponent since Dec. 20, 2006 when No. 8 Ohio State defeated No. 3 Oklahoma on the road, 74-67.
• Jim Foster is 10-7 against Michigan State in his Ohio State career.
• Ohio State leads the all-time series with Michigan State, 47-23, with Ohio State winning eight of the last 13 overall. The Buckeyes also lead, 19-10, in Columbus.
• Defensively, Ohio State held Michigan State to its second-lowest point total of the season and held them to 8.7 percent (2-of-23) from three-point range and 29.0 percent overall.
• Ohio State is 2-2 against ranked teams this season, defeating No. 9 Michigan State and No. 11 Oklahoma and falling to No. 1 UConn and No. 21 Iowa.
• Ohio State is 9-1 at home this season, 136-11 all-time under Jim Foster and 109-7 since the start of the 2004-05 season.
• Ohio State is 50-3 in Big Ten games at Value City Arena since the start of the 2004-05 season.
• Ohio State is 11-0 this year when leading at the half.
• Jantel Lavender has scored in double-figures in all 119 career games. She finished with 24 points for her 12th 20-point game of the season
• Lavender moved into a tie for third on Ohio State’s all-time blocks list with 165. She had two Sunday.
• Ohio State shot 19-of-25 at the line and is now 11-2 this year and 80-8 over the last three-plus seasons when they make more than its opponents at the line.
• Sophomore Tayler Hill scored a season-high 17 points while hitting all seven of her free throw attempts.
• The game featured seven ties and eight lead changes.
Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On Brittany Johnson
“She had a job to do today and did it. She was ruthless and played tough. Everybody took a great step today.”
On the need for toughness during games
“Here’s the thing about toughness; it isn’t just physicality. It is grabbing a rebound with both hands, executing offense under duress and walking to the foul line and making your shots. Our players are realizing what they can do to be tough.”
On heading into the future
“It is about us; the group maturing. I liked that players were holding themselves accountable and I like the opportunity to get tougher.”
On the defensive effort
“I liked our defensive energy. When you’re making shots the defense can be set and aggressive and we did a good job with that today.”
Jantel Lavender, senior center
On the defense today
“We played really hard on defense. I think we were all on the same page defensively. The offense just came because we pushed the tempo. Everyone was playing hard on the ball and it just created a better offense in transition and we got them a little frustrated.”
On getting out of the slump
“It’s kind of like the bad spell is behind us. Our team is not used to losing. It was hard to get out of that slump. I think we each had to get on the same page on how everything went. I think we were more cohesive than we were in past games.”
On what was different today
“We talked a lot more. I think everybody was screaming help when someone was getting beaten. I think everybody was talking and that makes all the difference when you have communication on the floor. We have not been doing that well so we were saying in our huddles that everyone needs to talk. I think overall it was a lot more energy and everything came together better.”
On getting the win
“We just knew we had to get a win. We were desperate to get a win by any means necessary. We know how we have to play for now on. The energy we have to play against every Big Ten team. We have to come out and play hard every game not just at home.”
Tayler Hill, sophomore guard
On the hardest part of the slump
“The hardest part is me looking at myself and not pointing other fingers at my teammates when things go wrong. We came together and we communicated very well today.”
On her three point shots
“Coach Foster always tells me to attack. I think my two three’s I made were late in the possession. They were good quality shots late in the possession so they weren’t rushed.”
Samantha Prahalis, junior guard
On the hardest part of the slump
“I don’t know, just losing. It’s the worst so we have to scratch our way back. Like coach said, I hate being here, but I don’t mind it. You’re either going to fall or scratch your way back up. I don’t mind the adversity. Today we were playing for each other and communicating. We started to realize we could come out of this and persevere.”
On when she felt comfortable with the game today
“I felt good in the first few minutes with Jantel. I thought she got off to a great start. I thought they couldn’t stop her and I kept going to her. Our defense was good and everyone did a great job, even Alison. Coming into a game is not easy and I thought she did a great job playing defense.”
Suzy Merchant, Michigan State head coach
On Michigan State’s overall play
“We didn’t play very well. I thought we had ample opportunity here. I definitely felt that the fight and fire wasn’t there today as it had been. We weren’t competing and getting after it on the defensive end. I felt good about our offense, but the ball just didn’t drop for us today.”
On Ohio State’s play
“There are things Ohio State did differently that were uncharacteristic for them to do, and I thought that would be to our advantage. It was a must-win for them. I thought they were in a position where it was by far a must-win for them.”
On Michigan State’s intensity
“I thought we would come out and have a little more pep in our step, and we didn’t. I was trying to put different combinations out there to find something and we couldn’t find it.”
On what they expected from Ohio State, going into the game
“I knew we were walking into a hornet’s nest. I knew that. We knew they have a point guard, and a five, and some kids that can do some things. No question, I knew we were walking into a hornet’s nest today.”