No. 10 Ohio St. 66, Illinois 55
Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender was strong and dominant in the
post. Samantha Prahalis relied on her all-conference quickness to
control the perimeter.
Just like the Buckeyes have come to expect from their strong
One problem against Illinois: Ohio State’s other players weren’t
themselves Friday night.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes had to continually fend off Illinois’
comebacks before finally pulling away in the final minute for a
66-55 win in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
“In the first half, I think we were rushing a little bit,”
Lavender said. “As far as me in the post, I don’t think I was
getting as deep as I should have. It was physical. Once I made that
adjustment with getting deeper in the lane, I think it turned
around a little bit.”
With Lavender, even on an off-night, the Buckeyes (28-4) can
overcome almost anything.
No, the conference’s three-time player of the year didn’t get
her usual double-double. She finished with 19 points and six
rebounds. She also forced Illinois’ top scorer, Jenna Smith, to
catch the ball farther away from the basket than Smith would have
Prahalis added 13 points and eight assists and constantly
menaced Illinois in the passing lanes, while Brittany Johnson hit
three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points.
But the Buckeyes had an off-night shooting. They made just 40
percent from the field, including 6 for 22 from 3-point range, got
outrebounded 45-34 and struggled to wrap up the victory.
It was the third straight year a ninth-seeded Illinois team met
the top-seeded Buckeyes in the quarterfinals, with the Illini
winning two years ago and the Buckeyes returning the favor last
season. Now the defending tourney champions will face fourth-seeded
Wisconsin in Saturday’s semifinal. The Badgers defeated Purdue
“Some days, you’re going to make a lot of shots, some days
you’re not,” said Ohio State coach Jim Foster, who has won a
record six straight Big Ten regular-season titles. “They’re a
very, very good defensive team. They’re a very good basketball
Starting with Smith.
The senior forward had 13 points and 11 rebounds in her final
conference game, enough rebounds to break Lynnette Robinson’s
nearly three-decade-old single-season record at Illinois. But Smith
also fell three frustrating points short of becoming the school’s
career scoring leader.
Ashley Berggren scored 2,089 points with the Illini. Smith has
2,087, a mark she could still get if the Illini (16-14) earn a
“Yeah, we were aware,” coach Jolette Law said. “She started
getting some shots. We were trying to win the ballgame, but I also
wanted her to get some shots. She needed a couple points. She had a
couple looks, they just didn’t go in.”
Lacey Simpson had 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists for
the Illini but she also fell two steals short of moving into second
place on the Big Ten’s career list.
The numbers didn’t bother the Illini. Losing to the Buckeyes for
the third time this season did.
“I can’t describe how it feels,” Smith said when asked about
the likelihood of finishing her career without an NCAA tourney
appearance. “It just hurts to know we haven’t been there. We did
what we could all four years.”
But Smith, Simpson & Co. couldn’t outdo the Buckeyes in
Ohio State opened the game by building a 17-7 lead and twice in
the first half had chances to put Illinois in even bigger holes.
Instead, Illinois rallied, cutting a 22-12 deficit to 24-19 and
then staying within 33-24 at the half even after the Buckeyes went
on a 7-0 run.
Illinois opened the second half with five straight points, to
make it 34-29. The Buckeyes answered that with an 11-4 run and
extended the lead to 55-39 with 8:46 to go.
Game over, right?
The Illini charged back with a 14-2 run over 3 1/2 minutes to
close within 57-51.
Ohio State closed it out with free throws in the final
“I think when they made that last run and they were coming at
us, we switched out of our zone and went man and I think we did it
very aggressively and very soundly. It disrupted their