Ohio State throttled Penn State on Sunday afternoon to claim the Big Ten tournament championship for the third consecutive year.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes beat No. 2 Penn State 84-70 for their third double-digit victory of the weekend in Indianapolis. All three came against higher-seeded teams, including a 71-61 defeat of No. 4 Iowa on Friday night and a 72-57 triumph against top-seeded Michigan State on Saturday night.
Against the Lady Lions, Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis led the way as both scored 23 points with 6,227 watching at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Lavender, a senior post player, became the first player ever named Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player three years in a row, and Prahalis, a junior point guard, remained undefeated in conference tournament play as the Buckeyes won their ninth game in a row in the event.
Prahalis was on the attack nearly from the start. She made a pull-up jumper in the lane to draw the Buckeyes within two at 12-10 4:23 into the game.
That started a 9-0 run that continued with a Lavender jump shot then a finger roll by Prahalis that gave Ohio State its first lead of the game.
“I think the first possession I got a screen and saw they were going under, and I saw it was wide open,” she said. “They weren’t getting there quick enough so I just took advantage of that because it was there.”
The Buckeyes (22-9) would eventually lead by as many as seven twice, the second time after Prahalis hit a pair of free throws to make it 39-32 with 3:48 to go.
Ohio State’s offense bogged down the rest of the half, however, and the Buckeyes led only 44-39 at the half.
A little more than a minute into the second half, the lead swelled to nine when OSU sophomore guard Tayler Hill made a three-pointer, and it reached double figures for the first time thanks to a Lavender jumper in the lane set up by a Prahalis pass. That made it 55-44 with 16:36 to go, and the Lions never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
Lavender became the first player to win three Big Ten MOP awards and admitted this was the sweetest one given the fact the Buckeyes at one point were 4-6 in Big Ten play and looked like they could miss the NCAA tournament.
Instead, they leave Indianapolis with another conference tournament trophy and a nine-game winning streak.
“I just think it's fun winning for my teammates, and especially this year with where we came from and how people just kind of gave up on our team and we just kind of all stuck together, and that's what makes us feel that much better,” said Lavender, who also had 15 rebounds. “And, I don’t know, I think we played great tonight. We played great defense and we played great team basketball. It makes it that much better just coming from where we were. Tonight was fun.”
Not to be overlooked was Hill, who had 17 points and five rebounds.
Forward Mia Nickson led Penn State (24-9) with 17 points while guards Alex Bentley and Zhaque Gray had 16 and 13, respectively.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year Maggie Lucas went 1 for 10 from the floor and scored eight points as she struggled to deal with the defense of Prahalis.
“She’s a really good shooter with a quick release, so it was lock and trail,” said Prahalis, who had nine assists and three rebounds. “We can’t have her go off in a championship game.”
Lavender, Prahalis, Hill, Bentley and Lucas were named to the all-tournament team.
Ohio State became the second team to win three consecutive Big Ten tournaments, joining the Purdue squads of 1998-2000, and the Buckeyes won their fourth tournament overall.
Head coach Jim Foster became the first to win four Big Ten tournaments.
“I would say this was the best team of the last three, and I think how we won this is a reflection of that,” said Foster, whose team now turns its attention to a ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. “To be quite frank, last year was sort of a relief because we were not who we are this year. This year walking into this tournament I thought we were really playing well. I thought we were focused. I thought we were together. I thought the ball moved extremely well and that we really understood how important the defensive aspect was for us.”
Count Penn State head coach Coquese Washington among the believers.
“Congratulations definitely is in order to Ohio State,” she said. “I thought they played a pretty good game and certainly they’re going to be a team that can go in the NCAA tournament and have a fantastic run when they’re clicking on all cylinders like they were today. They’re a tough team to compete with.”
NCAA tournament seedings will be announced March 14. Regardless of seed, Ohio State will play March 19 at St. John Arena in Columbus.