A great defensive start and some impressive debuts helped guide Ohio State to a season-opening win over Marist Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena, but a senior made sure the job was finished.
The Buckeyes used a suffocating defense take a 34-19 halftime lead, but the Red Foxes slowly whittled away that advantage in the second 20 minutes, forcing the Buckeyes to hold on for a 63-57 victory in front of 3,322 fans.
The visitors got as close as 56-54 when Julianne Viani banked in a 15-foot shot from the right wing with 1:46 to play.
At the other end, Ohio State’s Marscilla Packer missed a jump shot, but Buckeye freshman Jantel Lavender came up with the crucial offensive rebound and putback to make it a two-possession game again.
After Lavender forced a Viani driving shot to careen wildly off the backboard and out of bounds, Packer got a second chance to ice the game.
This time the senior guard came through.
With eight seconds on the shot clock, the Buckeyes inbounded the ball to Packer, who dribbled behind a screen from Star Allen and drilled a 3-pointer with 36 seconds to play.
At the other end, Lavender again forced a Marist miss in the paint, and when she collected the rebound, the Buckeyes could rest easy with a season-opening win.
In her first collegiate game, the 6-4 Lavender recorded a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Packer led all scorers with 26 points, and she hit 4 of 10 treys.
Her coach, Jim Foster, said it was no coincidence a late play was designed to go to her.
“Marscilla is really good at the end of the shot clock,” he said. “She’s going to get a shot because she has a quick release.”
While clutch shots and defensive plays were the story of the second half for Ohio State, the first half was all about defense.
Extending their defense well beyond the 3-point arc, the Buckeyes harassed Marist into nine first-half turnovers and 36-percent shooting from the field. The perimeter-oriented Red Foxes attempted just 3 long-rang shots and made none.
Marist coach Brian Giorgis credited OSU point guard Shavelle Little, who scored just two points but dished out four assists and generally suffocated whomever handled the ball for Giorgis’ team.
“The great thing is people who are scouting us won’t be able to see our offense because she wouldn’t let us get into it,” Giorgis said.
Little, a sophomore who came off the bench last season and made her first start Sunday, said there was nothing to it.
“I was just being myself, making sure I stayed in front of the ball,” she said.
She and a handful of other Buckeyes made the night tough for Viani, who torched Ohio State for 24 points – including six treys – when Marist ousted the Buckeyes from the NCAA tournament last March.
Sunday Viani got off just 7 shots from the field, making 2. She was 1 of 2 from 3-point range and finished with five points. By the middle of the first half, she was visibly frustrated at her inability to get clean looks at the basket.
“I always like her defensive pressure,” Foster said of Little.
The 16th-ranked Buckeyes return to action Wednesday night at 7 p.m. when they play host to Tennessee State.