Michigan St. 71, No. 7 Ohio St. 68

Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis took the blame for suddenly

losing her touch at the line.

Brittney Thomas scored 19 points, including a basket to trigger

an 8-0 run and two clinching free throws in overtime, to lead

Michigan State to a 71-68 victory over the seventh-ranked Buckeyes

on Sunday.

“I couldn’t close it out,” said Prahalis, who had hit 47

straight free throws coming in but missed seven of 11 foul shots.

“I had a couple times when I could have closed it out with some

free throws – and missed them. I think it was three times I could

have (won the game). It’s just unacceptable.”

Ohio State (26-4, 14-3) didn’t have much to play for, having

already clinched its unprecedented sixth consecutive Big Ten title

earlier in the week. Yet the loss might have revealed some trouble

ahead.

Asked why his team fell behind by 12 points in a dreary first

half, coach Jim Foster said, “That’s a question for discussion.

It’s obviously a flaw that we have, something we have to address

individually and collectively.”

Jantel Lavender, who led the Buckeyes with 24 points and 11

rebounds, said she was stunned by the loss, before the

second-largest crowd (11,827) to witness a women’s game at Value

City Arena.

“I’m very surprised,” she said. “I’m just shocked. We should

have pulled that out.”

There was a lot that was surprising. The Buckeyes had won their

last five games overall and came in 18-0 at home. Shooting 46

percent from the field in their first 29 games, they mustered just

39 percent. Two weeks after setting a Big Ten record with 17

3-pointers made in a game, they were just 3 for 15 behind the arc.

And they also had 22 turnovers, many of them unforced when a player

just threw a pass over a teammate’s head.

Ohio State trailed by 13 points with under 10 minutes left, but

had two shots to win the game in regulation – an off-balance

Prahalis drive and a tip by Sarah Schulze. The Buckeyes also had a

look at a tying 3 at the end of overtime, but Schulze’s attempt was

short and wide of the mark.

At the same time, Michigan State (19-8, 10-6) added a third

victory this season over a Top-10 team and played with emotion and

purpose.

“It’s always a big game to get ready for postseason where

you’re going to be away and you’re going to have huge crowds that

are rooting against you, so to just step up to the plate and have

multiple players step up and be ready to play, it’s a win we

needed,” said Thomas, who hit 7 of 11 shots from the field and

added five assists and seven rebounds.

Coach Suzy Merchant said she hoped the victory was a stepping

stone for a team that has had more than its share of ups and downs

this season.

“To do it on the road and in this environment, hopefully we can

build off of that,” she said.

Ohio State led by four in the overtime – its largest lead of the

game – before Thomas hit a perimeter jumper. Porsche Poole scored

on two drives (the second with 1:10 left in the overtime giving the

Spartans the lead for good) with Aisha Jefferson adding a bank shot

with 33 seconds remaining.

After Prahalis, who had 17 points, hit a 3-pointer, Thomas made

two foul shots with 15.3 seconds left to set up the drama at the

end.

Lykendra Johnson added 14 points and Kalisha Keane 10 for the

Spartans, who have won four in a row and eight of nine.

But it was Thomas’ play which guided the Spartans.

“I give that Thomas kid a lot of credit,” Foster said. “She

made a lot of clutch shots and just did what she had to do. She’s

essentially their ballhandler, their only ballhandler. But she got

the ball in position and knocked down shots.”

Thomas said there was never a point where she thought the

Spartans wouldn’t win. In fact, she had to tell the Spartans to put

a damper on their enthusiasm.

“We all had that energy of that Adrenalin going so when we came

out of timeouts, (I said) ‘Let’s calm down. We’re good. We’re right

where we need to be. Just kind of settle down and play hard,”’ she

said.

Meanwhile, despite the Big Ten title, the Buckeyes have work to

do.

“We have to play extremely hard every game,” said Lavender,

the Big Ten’s player of the year the past two seasons. “We need to

play for seeding as well. I don’t think it’s just Michigan State

coming in here needing a signature win.”