The 18th-ranked Buckeyes could be in a better spot, but barely. They held off Penn State 87-84 Thursday night at State College, meaning a Big Ten title will be their prize if they win the season finale Sunday at home against Northwestern.
That much is true thanks in large part to Jantel Lavender, the spectacular freshman who had probably the best performance of a tremendous year on Thursday night.
The 6-4 Clevelander scored a career-high 36 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out six assists.
The youngster got scoring support from seniors Marscilla Packer, who scored 18, and Tamarah Riley, who had 10.
Packer struggled shooting from the floor, making just 4 of 17 shots, but added fours assists without a turnover. She also blocked two shots and had two steals.
Lavender took and made more free throws than the Lady Lions did as a team. The OSU frosh made 12 of 14 freebies, while Penn State was 9 of 11.
Packer was 7 for 7 from the free throw line, part of a total OSU effort that saw the Buckeyes (21-7, 12-5) make 24 of 27 from the charity stripe.
Also stepping up in a big spot for the Buckeyes was Maria Moeller, who contributed 11 points in 31 minutes off the bench. She made all three of her three-point attempts and helped steady the point guard position, where starter Shavelle Little played just nine minutes as she continues to struggle with an injury.
The Lady Lions were paced by Kamela Gissendanner, who made 10 of 18 field goals and scored 25 points. Brianne O’Rourke added 17 and Tyra Grant had 11 points and six assists.
Gissendanner’s three-pointer in the final seconds would have tied the game but was off the mark.
Janessa Wolf came off the bench to post a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
A dismal season approached its end for Penn State (13-16, 4-13), a traditional conference power that has lost 10 in a row.
Northwestern, Ohio State’s opponent Sunday in Columbus in the regular season finale, got its lone win of the conference season Feb. 24 against Penn State.
Should the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats Sunday, Ohio State will win at least a share of the Big Ten for the fourth year in a row. Iowa will also get at least a share of the title with a win Sunday against Wisconsin.