Lavender’s 21 points and 13 rebounds leads Ohio State to fifth-consecutive league crown

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After racing to a share of a fifth straight Big Ten title, Ohio State coach Jim Foster compared his team to another athlete who could do a lot of things.

“We’ve got a little bit of Ali in us,” Foster said with a smile. “We can dance and we can hang on the ropes and slug.”

Center Jantel Lavender had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Samantha Prahalis fueled the 14th-ranked Buckeyes’ fastbreak to lead the way to a 75-53 win over Wisconsin on Thursday night.

The piece of the title allowed the Buckeyes (23-5, 14-3) to match school and Big Ten records. Ohio State also won five in a row from 1983-87.

Unlike the four previous titles, this one showed Ohio State — with Prahalis leading the charge like a playground dervish — can get out and run when needed, or it can rely on its 1-2 inside combo of Lavender and Star Allen to muscle teams. Together, they give the Buckeyes more diversity than they’ve had in the past.

“Ohio State is an outstanding team,” Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. “They have abilities in every area.”

Prahalis, leading the Big Ten and 17th in the nation in assists at almost six per game, kept the Buckeyes running on both offense and defense. She finished with nine assists and three steals despite not playing most of the second half.

“I love running because we get easy baskets and you get to create more,” the freshman said.

Allen added 17 points and Ashlee Trebilcock 11 for Ohio State, which won its fourth game in a row. The Buckeyes clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament next week while extending their own mark with a 12th Big Ten women’s basketball title.

Prahalis is able to find Lavender no matter where they are on the court. Likewise Allen and Lavender make a potent combo under the basket.

“It’s exciting that I can find Jantel and Jantel can find me,” Allen said. “It’s like a little connection between the post players.”

Alyssa Karel scored 13 points, Teah Grant 11 and Rae Lin D’Alie 10 for Wisconsin (16-13, 6-12), which is off until the conference tournament in Indianapolis.

“I’m taking nothing away from Ohio State,” Stone said. “But our lack of heart and our inability to compete defensively is disappointing.”

Ohio State, up 11 at the half, got off to a sluggish start in the second 20 minutes before Prahalis got going.

She tossed a 30-foot, lookaway pass to Lavender for a three-point play, followed that with a quick behind-the-back flip to Lavender for another bucket and then raced the ball down the court and fired a pass to Brittany Johnson for a 3 from the right corner.

Those three baskets capped an 8-0 run that swelled the Buckeyes’ lead to 48-31. Their lead never dropped below 15 points again.

“We ran hard. Our bigs ran and our guards were running wide and when they’re making some plays from the corners, you have to make a decision,” Foster said. “It’s sort of pick your poison.”

Lavender has 33 career double-doubles in 59 career games and has scored at least 10 points in every game in her college career. She came in leading the Big Ten in scoring (20.6) and rebounds (10.5) and is likely to win her second consecutive conference player of the year award.

She said she has grown accustomed to Prahalis getting her the ball, sometimes in unconventional ways.

“Some of our point guards in high school [were good passers] but they weren’t quite as fancy,” Lavender said. “I’m always ready for Sammy’s passes because I know she has those little creative passes that she throws.”

Trebilcock gave the Buckeyes a boost in the opening half. A starter for most of the season, she has seen limited time in recent weeks because of nagging knee problems. But she came in to hit two 3s and a 14-foot jumper as Ohio State pulled away to a 29-14 lead.

The Buckeyes shot 52 percent from the field in building a 40-29 lead at the break. They finished at 53 percent from the field.

They have won 77 of their past 89 Big Ten regular-season games and 41 of the past 43 at home.

Foster said there wasn’t much time to appreciate the fifth title, at least until after the regular-season finale Sunday at home against Penn State.

“We would like to win the league outright,” he said. “We’re not done with the regular season. We’ve got another game and we’ve got to get ready for that one.”

Postgame Notes

 The win over Wisconsin clinches at least a share of a record fifth-consecutive Big Ten regular-season championship for Ohio State and their 12th overall. They can win the title outright with a win over Penn State on Sunday. The Buckeyes become just the second Big Ten team to win five-consecutive regular-season titles after Ohio State also won a record five in a row from 1983-87.
 Ohio State also clinches the No. 1 seed in the 2009 Big Ten Tournament with Michigan State’s loss to Minnesota Thursday.
 Ohio State leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 41-14 and lead 19-5 in Columbus. Ohio State has won 14-consecutive games against Wisconsin and sweep the season series for the seventh-consecutive time.
 Head coach Jim Foster improves his record against Wisconsin to 12-0 since the 2002-03 season.
 The Buckeyes shot 52 percent in the second half Sunday after shooting 56 percent in the second half Thursday at Indiana and 65 percent in the second half at Minnesota.
 The Buckeyes led by 11 points in the first half and led by as much as 23 on two different occasions after halftime.
 Ohio State has won 77 of its last 89 Big Ten regular-season games and 41 of its last 43 at home.
 The Buckeyes are 19-1 this season when they make more free throws than their opposition and are 37-1 over the last two seasons when accomplishing that feat. Ohio State made 14-of-17 free throws in the game, while shooting 90 percent at the line in the first half.
 The Buckeyes made more free throws than their opponent attempted for the 13th time this season.
 The Buckeyes are 19-1 this season when they outrebound the opposition. Their only loss was at now-No. 6 Auburn in overtime.
 Ohio State is 5-0 this season when they shoot 50 percent or better from the field. 
 Head coach Jim Foster is 92-23 in Big Ten regular-season games at Ohio State and 175-45 overall.
 The Buckeyes improved their home record to 15-2 for the 2008-09 campaign. Ohio State has won the last five home games and nine of their last 10 overall.
 Sophomore Jantel Lavender finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the season and the 32nd of her career. The Buckeyes are 26-6 when over the past two years when Lavender gets a double-double.
 Lavender has scored 10 or more points in all 59 career games, the fourth-longest active streak in Division I.
 Lavender now was 1,125 career points and needs 70 more to break Katie Smith’s record of 1,194 points in her first two seasons as a Buckeye.
 Senior Star Allen scored 17 points, shooting 6-of-9 from the field. Allen went 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. In the last four games, Allen has scored 66 points (16.5 ppg) and is shooting 26-of-42 (62 percent) from the field.
 Freshman Samantha Prahalis dished out nine more assists and now has 162 on the season. She is on pace to break Kim Wilburn’s Ohio State freshman record of 168 assists set during the 2002-03 season.
 Prahalis now has 16 games with six or more assists.
 Senior Ashlee Trebilcock scored 11 points and posted a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the 3-point line. Trebilcock has made 35 three-pointers this season, which is second most on the team.
 Prahalis recorded three steals, her 10th game this season with three or more.
 Sophomore Alison Jackson had seven points and three rebounds, while recording a career-high two blocks.
 Ohio State outrebounded the Badgers 39-26.
 Ohio State’s defense held Wisconsin’s leading scorer Alyssa Karel to zero points in the second half.
 Ohio State committed only one foul after halftime.

Postgame Quotes

Lisa Stone, Wisconsin head coach
On Wisconsin’s lack of transition defense
“I was disappointed in our effort getting back tonight. One of our non-negotiables on defense is to not get beat in transition … 21 points in transition is the most we’ve given up all year and that is disappointing.”

On Ohio State
“Ohio State is a great team. It starts with Samantha Prahalis having nine assists to one turnover is impressive. Brittany Johnson is coming in to her own. Little is tough on defense and Trebilcock off the bench is still solid. Star and Jantel inside are strong, powerful and tough to stop.”

On the Buckeyes’ defense
“One of the things that is lost in the fact that they are the conference’s top scoring team is the fact that they are also a great defensive team. They pressure the ball well and it is tough to get good shots on them.”

Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On capturing a part of the Big Ten championship
“We’d like to win the title outright. Now we’re thinking about Sunday. We have a young, talented Penn State team coming here. We’ll reflect on the season when the season is over. The season isn’t done, we have another game and we have to be ready.”

On the defense
“I thought we were much better in the second half than the first. I think we did a good job on Karel in the second half. We were more conscious of where she was. Our guards tightened their defense the second half.”

On Samantha Prahalis
“I think she’s improved defensively and in the half-court offensively. She has a gift in transition. She’s fearless. The wings are running so she has decisions to make. She helps make us a diverse basketball team. She’s a freshman and she’s going to continue to get better. “

Samantha Prahalis, Ohio State guard
On the pace of the game
“I liked it a lot. It gives us an opportunity to flow and create a lot more chances. Just really push it.

Jantel Lavender, Ohio State center
On playing with Star Allen
“It’s really nice playing more with Star because I have a lot of confidence with her. It’s also nice to have her clean up on rebounds too.”

On the play of Wisconsin
“It was important to come out strong today because we knew they were going to fight. But now we have to play hard Sunday.”

On the fast pace of the game
“It’s nice because I get to avoid the double-teaming. It takes the stress away a little, but when we set up in the half-court offense it takes the stress off the rest of the team when I get doubled.”

Star Allen, Ohio State forward
On playing more minutes with Jantel Lavender
“It’s exciting to be able to find her when I look up and the other way around. We’re really starting to understand how the other one moves. I like our connection that we have on offense.”

On the offensive performance
“We reverse the ball a lot which really helps us get into the right spots. The defense really helped too.”