EAST LANSING, Mich. — Ohio State had finally lost its grip on the Big Ten title, and to add insult to injury, the Buckeyes happened to be the visiting team on the night Michigan State (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) planned its championship celebration.
Jantel Lavender and the Buckeyes did the only thing they could: They beat the Spartans again.
Lavender scored 24 points, and Ohio State spoiled Michigan State’s conference title celebration with a 54-53 win over the Spartans on Thursday night. Michigan State had already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, but the Spartans couldn’t celebrate an outright championship until shortly after the game — when Penn State lost to Purdue.
Lavender’s free throw with 1:50 remaining was the game’s final point. Michigan State’s last chance came after a shot clock violation with 10.5 seconds remaining, but Jasmine Thomas missed from about 18 feet under heavy pressure from Ohio State’s Amber Stokes.
“We played great defense down the stretch,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “On offense, we just tried to go through Jantel.”
Ohio State (18-9, 9-6 Big Ten) had won at least a share of the last six regular-season Big Ten titles. The Buckeyes won’t extend that streak, but they’ve now won five games in a row.
Ohio State also won both meetings against Michigan State this season, which had to take some of the sting out of the Spartans’ postgame celebration, which included a trophy and a new banner that was raised to the rafters.
Penn State’s loss gave Michigan State its first outright regular-season Big Ten title. The Spartans have shared it twice.
“Certainly, we would have liked to have done it with a victory,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “It was a hard-fought battle, and it could have gone either way.”
When asked if Michigan State’s title was a motivating factor, Lavender responded: “I’m just worried about our team.”
Michigan State (24-4, 12-3) had its 20-game winning streak at the Breslin Center snapped.
Lykendra Johnson more than held her own against Lavender down low, collecting 16 points and 17 rebounds. Michigan State had 17 offensive rebounds but shot only 33 percent from the field in a physical game.
“At the end of the day, we’re still Big Ten champs,” Michigan State guard Cetera Washington said.
With 13:30 remaining and her team ahead by two, Michigan State’s Kalisha Keane left the court with a streak of blood running down the left side of her face. It wasn’t clear how she’d been hurt, but she missed five minutes of game time before returning. Merchant said Keane had four stitches around her eye.
Keane tied it at 53 when she scored inside while being fouled, but she missed the free throw. After Lavender put the Buckeyes ahead, the teams traded empty possessions before the Spartans got the ball back under their own basket with one more chance.
After a timeout, Thomas tried to push the ball up the court quickly, but the 5-foot-10 Stokes was relentless, slowing her down and limiting her options.
“Ugly games determine how good you are,” Foster said. “When the ball is not going in, how do you find the will to win the game?”
As difficult as this season has been for the Buckeyes, they appear to be hitting their stride, and they’re a threat as long as Lavender is in the lineup. The 6-foot-4 senior has scored in double figures in all 129 games she’s played for Ohio State.