Samantha Prahalis wasted no time reminding fans she is one of the most entertaining players in college basketball.
In her season debut after a three-game suspension for a secondary NCAA violation, Ohio State’s junior point guard scored 18 points and handed out eight assists as the women’s basketball Buckeyes beat visiting East Tennessee State 80-47.
She was back with her trademark flair, handing out her first no-look pass of the season to Tayler Hill on a fast break for a layup that gave the Buckeyes an 11-2 lead and prompted ETSU head coach Karen Kemp to call a timeout with 15:52 to go.
The Lady Buccaneers (2-2) weathered that early storm, however, and scored six in a row to stay in the contest.
They later took the lead on a three-pointer by Shawn Randall at the 6:59 mark, but seventh-ranked Ohio State (4-0) responded emphatically.
OSU center Jantel Lavender answered with a bucket 11 seconds later for the first basket of a 17-0 run to end the first half.
Hill followed with a driving layup, then Prahalis brought the crowd to its feet with a behind-the-back pass to Johnson for a layup and a foul. Johnson missed the ensuing free throw, but the Buckeyes were off and running.
Hill scored the next four on free throws, then Prahalis brought the house down again with a reverse layup while drawing a foul on Jasmine McIntosh. She added the freebie to push Ohio State’s lead to 12, a new high for the game.
After Hill followed her own miss for another layup, Prahalis scored the final basket of the half by snagging a shot Ashley Adams had blocked and racing to the other end for a fast-break layup.
“I think we acted like a veteran team,” Foster said of the half-ending run. “This is the fourth team in a row we’ve played that won 20-plus games last year. They’re all very good. They’re going to do things that cause you problems. You’ve got to adjust and figure out what works for you and figure out what is making it difficult for them. When we went to the zone I think it hurt them. I thought switching defenses was effective for us and we started to rebound a lot better.”
The Buckeyes led 36-20 at intermission and never looked back in front of 2,782 fans at Value City Arena.
They led by as many as 36 late in the second half, and with the outcome not in doubt in the final 20 minutes, the story shifted back to Prahalis’ return.
“I said to a couple girls in the locker room I felt like I was a freshman again,” she said. “I was a little bit nervous just because they had three games under their belt and I wanted to be in there and catch up with them, but it was my first game and it’s going to take a game or two to get fully into a rhythm.”
She made 7 of 14 shots from the floor, including 1 of 4 three-pointers, but saw her stat line marred by nine turnovers as she forced a few passes into spots too tight or threw ahead when no one was there.
“I think sometimes Sammy was trying to fit four games into one,” Foster said. “She’ll slow down.”
Prahalis was not the only Buckeye to make her season debut. Also seeing the floor for the first time were sophomore guard Amber Stokes and freshman center Ashley Adams, two players expected to be key contributors off the bench who had been out with health problems.
Stokes, who had to get over a bout of mononucleosis, made her season debut at the 13:34 mark of the first half.
Adams, who had minor knee surgery in October, entered the game for the first time with 4:20 to go and blocked a shot within less than a minute of game action. The 6-5 Arkansas native finished the night with three blocks, two rebounds and a steal in seven minutes while Stokes had two points and one assists in 10 minutes.
Joining Prahalis in scoring in double figures were Lavender (20), Hill (16) and Johnson (13).
Lavender added 11 rebounds to notch the 60th double-double of her career, and she passed Jessica Davenport to move to second on Ohio State’s all-time rebounding list. Lavender finished the night with 1,097 boards.
After filling in for Prahalis at the point during the suspension, Hill looked quite comfortable back at her familiar off-guard spot. The sophomore made 5 of 9 shots and had seven rebounds to go with five assists and three steals.
“We did some good things,” Foster said. “It was like the first game. It was the first time we had an opportunity to sub and start towards (developing) a rotation. Sammy was practicing at least. Amber and Ashley weren’t practicing. They probably had three or four practices under their belt so timing and things like that are going to take a while.”
Every Buckeye saw action but sophomore center Aleksandra Dobranic, a 6-4 native of Novi Sad, Serbia, who is sitting out while rehabilitating a foot stress fracture. Foster confirmed an earlier report that he hopes to redshirt her.
Natalie Pickwell led the visitors with 16 points while Randall added 12.