Ohio State completes fifth-consecutive Big Ten championship season
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Same result, same school, different approach.
No. 14 Ohio State’s big two were too much for Penn State on Sunday, with Star Allen scoring a career-high 25 points in her final home game and Jantel Lavender adding 28 points and 12 rebounds to power the Buckeyes past the Nittany Lions, 74-63.
They had clinched at least a share of their fifth straight Big Ten title earlier in the week.
The next step is to improve on a rocky postseason record that has seen them follow spectacular regular seasons with quick knockouts in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re a better team than we’ve been for a while, a couple of years,” coach Jim Foster said, referring to teams that were eliminated in huge first-round NCAA upsets each of the last two seasons. “Quite frankly, we’re a little tired of all the naysayers. We knew what was wrong and we fixed it. We’re a more intense, more focused basketball team.”
The Buckeyes (24-5, 15-3) were already the outright Big Ten champs even before tipoff, thanks to Purdue’s 57-55 home loss to Michigan State. Yet they still took care of business. Ohio State, which fell a game off the lead with back-to-back losses in five days early in February, won its last five contests to capture a fifth straight league title by two full games.
“We’re bordering on loosey-goosey sometimes,” Foster said when asked about his team’s makeup off the floor. “We’re a young team with a lot of spirit and enthusiasm. They know how to have fun. And they’re starting to focus in on understanding when it’s business and it’s time to work. That’s a good thing.”
Samantha Prahalis added 11 points, five steals and five assists for Ohio State.
Tyra Grant and Mashea Williams each scored 14 points and Julia Trogele had 10 for Penn State (11-17, 6-12), which has lost the last 10 meetings with the Buckeyes.
Eighth-seeded Penn State meets ninth-seeded Illinois on Thursday night at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Ohio State gets a bye and could meet the Lions again on Friday.
After the game, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney presented the championship trophy to Ohio State coach Jim Foster and his players, who then cut down the nets.
“I don’t know if it’s different,” Lavender said of her second title in as many years. “It’s something to look forward to every year and something that you have to live up to every year. The excitement is the same.”
The sophomore is a shoo-in to be the conference’s player of the year for the second season in a row after running her double-figure scoring streak to 60 games in a row.
Allen also had nine rebounds and four assists.
“Yes, I was a lot motivated,” she said of playing her final game at Value City Arena. “I just had to keep playing how I was playing the past couple of games.”
Allen (17) and Lavender (14) combined for 31 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and two steals as the Buckeyes grabbed a 44-28 lead at the break.
“Oh, man, senior night? She was supposed to have an awful game. She’s supposed to be so emotional,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of Allen. “But when she’s active like that, she’s a bear. When she’s quick and athletic and she jumps and blocks shots, when she’s playing at that level, the Lavender-Allen combo is just tough to stop.”
The duo had more points than the Nittany Lions until 4 minutes into the second half.
“When me and Star are both on, it’s hard to guard us,” Lavender said.
Penn State, which had won its last two games, got as close as six points in the final 20 minutes, cutting what was once a 20-point deficit to 63-57 on Williams’ free throw with 5:31 left.
But the Buckeyes turned things around, Prahalis hitting two foul shots and then assisting on a lob pass to Lavender for a bucket to make it 68-59. Penn State never got closer than seven points again.
“We picked up our defense and we just needed to regroup overall and get back to how we were playing in the first half,” said Prahalis, a freshman. “We needed to run a set play and calm down a little bit.”
The Buckeyes’ only other senior, Ashlee Trebilcock, was asked how she liked her new Big Ten championship T-shirt.
“Very nice,” she said with a wide smile. “Add it to the collection.”
The win was the 800th all-time victory for Ohio State since its first varsity season in 1965-66. They are just the eighth Division I program to reach 800 victories.
The Buckeyes finish the regular-season 24-5 and 15-3 in the Big Ten, winning the Big Ten regular-season title outright. The championship is a record-tying fifth in a row and a record 12th overall. Ohio State also won a five Big Ten titles in a row from 1983-87.
Ohio State is the No. 1 seed in the 2009 Big Ten Tournament and will face the winner of No. 8 Penn State and No. 9 seed Illinois at 6 p.m. ET Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Ohio State seniors Ashlee Trebilcock and Star Allen were honored prior to the start of Sunday’s game.
Ohio State has won the last 10 meetings with Penn State.
The 44 first-half points by the Buckeyes ties for the second-most this season. Ohio State also scored 44 in the first half against Michigan at home and scored 45 in the first half against Army.
Ohio State has won 78 of its last 90 Big Ten regular-season games and 42 of its last 44 at home.
The Buckeyes finished 16-2 at home this season (13-2 at VCA, 2-0 at St. John Arena and 1-0 at Nationwide Arena).
Ohio State is 81-5 at home since the start of the 2004-05 season and 108-9 all-time at home in the Jim Foster era.
Head coach Jim Foster is 93-23 in Big Ten regular-season games at Ohio State and 176-45 overall.
Ohio State has won 92 of its last 93 games at home against unranked opponents.
Ohio State is 18-0 this year when leading at the half.
The Buckeyes are 20-1 this season when they make more free throws than their opposition and are 38-1 over the last two seasons when accomplishing that feat. Ohio State made 17-of-22 free throws in the game.
The Buckeyes made more free throws than their opponent attempted for the 14th time this season.
Sophomore Jantel Lavender finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds for her 20th double-double of the season and the 33rd of her career. The Buckeyes are 27-6 when over the past two years when Lavender gets a double-double.
Lavender’s 33 career double-doubles are the most among active Big Ten players in only her sophomore season.
Lavender has 86 points in three career games with Penn State 28.6 ppg.
Lavender wins the Big Ten scoring title in all games played (606, 20.9 ppg) and in conference games only (360, 20.0 ppg), edging Penn State’s Tyra Grant (359, 19.9 ppg).
Lavender has scored 10 or more points in all 60 career games, the fourth-longest active streak in Division I.
Lavender now was 1,153 career points and needs 42 more to break Katie Smith’s record of 1,194 points in her first two seasons as a Buckeye.
Senior Star Allen scored a career-high 25 points in her final home game as a Buckeye. She just missed a double-double with nine rebounds. She also had four assists and three blocks.
Allen also went over 800 points for her career.
In the last five games, Allen has scored 91 points (18.2 ppg) and is shooting 37-of-62 (.597 percent) from the field.
Freshman Samantha Prahalis dished out five more assists and now has 167 on the season. She needs one more to tie and two to break Kim Wilburn’s Ohio State freshman record of 168 assists set during the 2002-03 season.
Prahalis also recorded five steals, her 11th game this season with three or more.
Junior Shavelle Little tied a career-high with seven assists.
Ohio State led by as much as 20 points early in the second half at the 18:44 mark.
Jim Foster, Ohio State head coach
On winning the Big Ten championship
“It never gets old. It’s a feeling that you start out the season wanting to be that way, but so does 11 other teams. They trust each other. We took care of business this season and were in control of our situation. We didn’t make excuses. We figured it out and went after it.”
On Star and Jantel
“Jantel and Star have been playing well together for a while now. We have quality people coming in to do good things. They play well together, offensively.”
On executing against the zone
“We’ve come light years since the North Carolina game. The lack of execution cost us that game. We had good ball movement and spacing. Star and Jantel were playing catch out there, which is a good thing.”
On Ohio State’s guards
“Shavelle continues to get better. She finds the holes and gaps. She doesn’t force the ball much and when she does, she gets the ball back. We positioned ourselves in a good way. We took advantages of the opportunities that presented themselves.”
Coquese Washington, Penn State Head Coach
On Penn State’s second half run
“What it really came down to is that we played so much better defensively. We switched from zone to man-to-man and that gave us a better chance to contest shots and rebound. We just ran in transition more.”
On Ohio State’s performance
“Well they’re very good. They have such great post players and they played great today. But it’s also a lot easier to hit baskets when you pretty much have shooting practice. We didn’t come out enough in the zone.”
On the play of Star Allen
“What the heck? She wasn’t supposed to play that well today. It is senior night, you’re supposed to be all emotional, but she played so great.”
On the upcoming Big Ten tournament
“There’s so much parity in this conference. What other conference do you have the No. 1 team play the No. 11 team and not be completely surprised if the No. 11 team won? But we’re ready for anyone in the tournament.”
Star Allen, senior forward
On senior day
“I was definitely motivated. I wanted to try and forget that and come out and play like I have been the last couple of games. I was excited and wanted to win.”
Ashlee Trebilcock, senior guard
On the emotions of senior day
“I was sad, especially at the beginning of the game. We won the game, so that was great too. My teammates got me Billy Joel and Elton John tickets so that makes me really happy.”
On their success in late-game situations
“We have confidence in each other and don’t panic when things aren’t going our way. We know who our go-to-players are and know that they have been getting it done for us all season. Hopefully we can keep that going into the postseason.”
Jantel Lavender, sophomore center
On the differences between her two Big Ten titles
“I think the excitement was the same. Whenever you accomplish something like this, it’s special. Hopefully I’ll be back here and do it again next year.”
On her and Star Allen’s performance
“We did good things today. When Star and I get going down low it’s hard to stop us.”
Samantha Prahalis, freshman guard
On coming back strong in the late part of the second half
“We picked up our defense and regrouped into what we did well in the first half. The crowd was really into it at the end, so that helped boost us.”