Marscilla Packer made the three-pointer she had been waiting for, then set up a much more important one in Ohio State’s 43-42 win over Illinois on Thursday night in Columbus.
The 16th-ranked Buckeyes (14-3) trailed for almost all of the second half and were down 42-37 with less than 90 seconds to play when the senior sharpshooter finally canned her first three-pointer of the game.
The shot came at the 1:19 mark of the second half and served as a double milestone, not only the 200th trey of her career but also giving her 1,002 points as a Buckeye, yet it was just a prelude to how she would help her team pull out an improbable win.
After the ensuing Fighting Illini (11-6, 3-3) possession produced a Chelsea Gordon three-point attempt that failed to draw iron as the shot clock expired, Ohio State set up under its own basket with a chance to tie or win the game.
Packer got the ball at the top of the key and drove to her left, drawing an extra Illinois defender and leaving Buckeye Maria Moeller alone in the corner. Packer found her and Moeller let loose a shot that swished through the bottom of the net with 14.5 seconds left. Moeller’s only shot of the game brought a Value City Arena crowd of 3,425 to its feet after Buckeye fans endured nearly 40 minutes of ugly basketball at both ends.
Illinois’ final possession ended with Bjork trapped against the sideline by 6-5 Buckeye Andrea Walker, who forced the Illini point guard to heave the ball into the air. Packer came down with it as the final horn sounded.
“Give credit to Ohio State,” Illinois coach Jolette Law said. “They got key rebounds and executed when they needed to.”
Law’s team was shut out over the final 4:56 after Jenna Smith made a layup to put her team ahead 42-35.
The rest of the way the Fighting Illini would get off just two shots and commit four turnovers.
They had chances to put the Buckeyes away in the end, twice getting their hands on defensive rebounds prior to Packer’s three but unable to secure the ball to end the OSU possession.
The same thing happened once after Walker missed a layup that could have tied the game prior to Moeller’s game-winner.
That the Buckeyes were even in the game at all had a lot to do with Jantel Lavender and Ashlee Trebilcock.
Lavender, Ohio State’s star freshman post player, kept in tact her streak of 17 straight double-figure scoring games to start her career, but just barely. She finished with 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting. She also grabbed 12 rebounds for her ninth double-double.
Trebilcock led Ohio State with 11 points. She made 5 of 11 shots, none with much ease. With the Buckeye offense failing to produce many open looks, she ventured into the lane for baskets on several occasions.
Packer finished with five points and 1 of 6 shooting from three-point range. She did not attempt a field goal from within the arc but added four rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Smith led Illinois with 16 points while Bjork had 12.
Until Packer and Moeller stole the show in the final 79 seconds, Bjork and Smith would have been able to have a rousing argument who should take home most valuable player honors.
While Smith did battle with Lavender down low, Bjork found the range from downtown to help her team open up a scant bit of breathing room in the second half.
Together they scored Illinois’ last 14 points.
That stretch began with Bjork hitting back-to-back threes after Ohio State finally tied the score at 28 with 12:26 to go in the second half.
“I firmly believe the ugly wins are what determines real good seasons,” Foster said, noting his team played its best basketball in the final two minutes after hanging around for the first 38.
“It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re playing hard and doing the right things and you look up and you’re constantly down by five,” Trebilcock said. “We just wanted to chip away and it was always five points and then all of a sudden Pack hit a three and Maria hit a three and we’re up by one, so it all kind of happened it seemed like in a split second.”
Though known much more for her scoring than her playmaking, Packer said she had no second thoughts about what to do as the Buckeyes’ final possession unfolded.
“I saw Maria’s person and how they were kind of playing me and kind of decide that she should go with me and she bit to me just enough so I kicked it to Maria and she hit a wide-open shot,” Packer said.
Any hesitation in giving up the ball in that situation?
“No, she had a much better shot than I had,” Packer said.
If the choice of what to do seemed easy to Packer, that came as a surprise to Moeller.
“I initially thought she would shoot it,” Moeller said, adding that she was not sure if her defender had left her open enough to draw the pass.
Though the shot looked pure as it left her hand, Moeller admitted, “I was a little nervous when, but I’m really happy it went in.”
The make left Moeller 10 of 18 from three-point range on the year, a 55.6-percent clip that is a drastic improvement over the 28.8 percent (17 of 59) she shot last year as a freshman.
“Pack did what she should have done,” Foster said in his typical matter-of-fact sort of way.
“The fact we squeezed one out says a lot about our team,” Trebilcock said.