MADISON, Wis. — Ohio State has already clinched its sixth straight Big Ten title, but Wisconsin didn’t concede anything on Thursday night.
That’s exactly what Buckeyes coach Jim Foster was hoping to see.
Samantha Prahalis scored 25 points and Jantel Lavender had 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead Ohio State (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) to an 83-78 victory over Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes (26-3, 14-2 Big Ten) beat the Badgers for the 16th straight time and lead the all-time series 43-14. But this one wasn’t easy.
“We need to win games like this,” said Foster, who feels the high-scoring game will help the Buckeyes prepare for the postseason. “We’re figuring out what’s important in close games down the stretch.”
Prahalis scored four points during a 7-0 run over the final 1:18 of the first half to give Ohio State a 37-32 lead. The Badgers pulled within two points twice in the final minute of the second half, but the Buckeyes made 7 of 8 free throws to hold on for the victory.
“[Wisconsin] plays very hard and we had to match their energy in order to win the game,” Foster said. “And we did that. Quite frankly, it’s the kind of game I would like to see more in the Big Ten.”
Alyssa Karel scored 21 points for Wisconsin (18-8, 8-7), and Taylor Wurz scored 10 of her 18 points in the first half.
The scrappy Badgers pulled within two points twice in the final minute of regulation, but the Buckeyes made 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch to hold on for the win.
There were six ties in the first half and the teams traded the lead seven times before Prahalis scored four points during a 9-0 run over the final 2:14 to give Ohio State a 37-32 lead at halftime.
Karel drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to help the Badgers pull within two points at 76-74 with 35 seconds left in the game.
Rae Lin D’Alie’s lay up maintained a two-point margin at 78-76 with 29 seconds left, but the Badgers never got any closer.
Lavender scored 12 points in the second half for Ohio State, which shot 52 percent from the field in the victory.
Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone was pleased with her team’s effort, but said the Badgers need to erase mistakes in order to contend in close games.
“You’re playing a top 10 team in the country and this prepares our team,” said Stone, whose Badgers are tied with Iowa for fourth in the conference. “Our team laid it on the line and battled. That was two really good teams playing out there and we fought to the bitter end.”
Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone
On the game overall: “You just got to take care of the ball in the first half and we only had six second-half turnovers which was why we were hanging in there with them. They have a lot of offense. (There is) a lot of threats from Ohio State. Hats off to them. Six straight regular-season conference championships and that’s impressive. That’s never been done in history, but our kids fought their tails off and I’m really proud of them. They laid it on the line and they made a run. For us to put up 78 points is good. They have a lot of 3-point shooters. It’s not just Samantha Prahalis and Jantel Lavender. They are both good players. Tayler Hill and Shavelle Little and even Amber Stokes were very good defensively for them. (They) got them up in transition. Brittany Johnson hit some timely 3’s, but I can’t forget about Sarah Schulze either. That’s another player. They have a lot of weapons but I thought our team did a very good job. We fought as hard as we could but again it was just a little bit too late. I wish we had five more minutes.
On the end of the first half: “The last seven points in the first half were off turnovers and that’s on us. We have to be stronger with the ball. We talk about playing harder and that’s not just physically, (but) that’s mentally as well and those are some breakdowns. We talked about that. Not that we didn’t do a better job in the second half of taking care of the ball, but that was crucial for us and that shows up in the score.”
On fouling in the second half: “I haven’t seen the stats sheet yet but we have to stop fouling and make some adjustments. The bottom line is…many of their first half points were off the free throw line and in the second half too. Down the stretch obviously we had to try to foul to make a run and they made their (free-throws) but hats off to them. They are a very good team but hats off to our players because they worked really hard and played very well. I am really proud of them.”
On the next three games: “Before I continue I’d like to thank the students who are now gone. What a great student section we had tonight. We have one home game left to celebrate our seniors. I hope that we have a huge crowd on that particular day as well as with us right now going on the road. We have to go to a tough Michigan place. They play very well at home and at Penn State. Those are some games that we look forward to the challenge and there’s a logjam between the second and the ninth place teams in this conference, but we will worry less about that and (we will) worry about ourselves and getting prepared for Michigan. Hopefully again, giving us some separation by taking care of business on Sunday.”
Ohio State head coach Jim Foster
On next steps for the team: “Win games like this, and figure out what’s important in close games down the stretch. We’ve been fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to be in these types of games, both at Minnesota and here. I think we have finished 7-2 on the road in a very tough, physical league. We made the right decisions at the right time, made shots that we had to make and stops that we had to make when we needed to. That’s what wins for you this time of year.”
On how Ohio State answered Wisconsin’s tenacity: “I think we met it. The conversation before the game was that this team plays very, very hard, and we have to match their energy if we are going to win the basketball game. I think we did that. We played very, very hard and quite frankly, it’s the type of game I would like to see more of in the Big Ten. It’s a conference that I look at and see scores in the 40s and 50s, and I think if you ask people at this game, they would think it was a heck of a lot more interesting game than one that turns into a mud-wrestling match. It was up-and-down basketball. Kids making plays, kids making decisions and playing hard. It’s what I would like to see more of in this league.”
On Samantha Prahalis’ ability to handle high-pressure games: “She is much better at handling these types of games because she’s played more of them. Experience is a great teacher. She is learning on the fly. I love 99 percent of her and that one percent sometimes we’re going head-to-head, but that’s what makes her. That’s what the feistiness is about. That’s what that competitive zeal is about; she wants the ball on the game winners. A lot of players run the other way and don’t want the responsibility, but she makes big plays.”
On Ohio State’s composure in the final minute: “I think we act like we have been there before, and we have. One shot doesn’t win a game and one shot doesn’t lose a game. It’s about getting a stop at those crucial times and scoring at the other end. We have a bunch of kids that can make foul shots. We have options at the end of the game to throw the ball to different folks and I think that makes the in-bounder a little more comfortable, we’re not looking for one person all the time. I think we are growing as a basketball team.”