The Ohio State women’s basketball team downed Butler 75-56 to open the season Friday night, but not without some anxious moments at Value City Arena.
First there was the 4:30 scoreless stretch at the midway point of the first half.
Then there was the 5-0 run by the visitors at the end of the opening stanza, allowing the Bulldogs to trail by only four at the half when it appeared just a moment earlier the 18th-ranked Buckeyes (1-0) had opened some breathing room.
The most breathtaking moment, no doubt, for the 2,257 fans in attendance came at the 5:53 mark of the second half when play was stopped with prized freshman point guard Samantha Prahalis writhing on the floor at midcourt in pain.
The new Buckeye grabbed her left leg with a look of concern on her face as OSU training staff rushed out to attend to her.
By that point, the 5-7 whirlwind had 14 points and three assists on 6-of-9 shooting. She had thrown about as many flashy passes as fans of basketball recruiting probably had come to expect, but her final point total would end there.
Prahalis was helped off the floor by two OSU staff members and did not play again, but she stayed on the bench and took part in postgame handshakes with the Bulldogs (0-1).
After the game, she was feeling well enough that her coach could joke about the midcourt scene.
“We just told her when she goes down in the future to scream, ‘Cramp’,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said with a smile. “I think our medical people were a little concerned. I haven’t seen Dr. (Don) Lemay move that fast in quite a while.”
Seated next to him, Prahalis did not sound concerned at all.
“I was starting to cramp up and felt it in my calf when I went down court the two times before that, so I kind of knew it was coming,” she said. “I was hoping that it wouldn’t, though. So then the girl stepped on my foot and kind of like pulled it and then it just cramped up in my calf, but it’s no big deal.”
By the time the star freshman went down, the Buckeyes could afford to do little more than worry about her condition.
They led 57-42, having expanded a four-point halftime advantage to 15 by coming out with the offense clicking.
Brittany Johnson drove the lane for a layup to kick off the second half, and Prahalis followed by driving deep into the lane for a short two-pointer.
Butler’s Lade Akande answered with an up-and-under move for a basket, but Prahalis came back the next time down the floor and used a crossover dribble free herself for a jump shot that she buried from the left elbow.
In less than two minutes, the Buckeyes had already doubled their lead.
The advantage grew to 12 after Star Allen and Jantel Lavender both hit a pair of free throws for the Buckeyes, but the Bulldogs would not go away.
They trimmed the lead back to seven on baskets by Melanie Thornton and Candace Jones plus a free throw by Brittany Bowen that made it 39-32 with 13:36 to play.
Lavender answered with an old-fashioned three-point play, but Thornton kept the Buckeye lead at eight by making another jumper with 11:47 to play.
That was as close as the game would be the rest of the night.
Ashlee Trebilcock drove into the lane for a layup to put the Buckeyes ahead 44-34 and begin a stretch in which they outscored the visitors 15-6.
Walker had five, Prahalis and Lavender four apiece and Trebilcock two during the run.
Foster pointed to some opening-night jitters for some of the early struggles.
“We started three players for the first time in their life (Johnson, Prahalis and Alison Jackson) and I think we weren’t patient in the first half,” he said. “We didn’t reverse the ball. In the second half, we started to reverse the ball.
“We tried to make plays quickly in the first half. Second half with ball reversals, it opened up more and gave us more of an opportunity.”
The Buckeyes’ obvious height advantage did not hurt, either.
Butler’s tallest player, Susan Lester, is listed at 6-2, and the Buckeyes took advantage.
The 6-4 Lavender had a game-high 20 points and 19 rebounds while the 6-5 Walker came off the bench to add 13 points and eight boards.
As a team, Ohio State held a 55-31 advantage on the glass. Lavender alone had 14 defensive rebounds, same as the Bulldogs as a group.
Also scoring in double-figures for the Buckeyes was Star Allen, who had 10 points and eight boards. Johnson added five points and Trebilcock had four.
Thornton came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding. She had 18 points and eight boards. Jones added 11.
The Bulldogs, who returned all five starters from a 20-win team, hung tough in the first half by holding the Buckeyes to 31.0 percent shooting (9 for 29), but Ohio State’s defensive effort was even better as Butler hit just 9 of 33 shots, or 27.3 percent.
Butler also enjoyed a 14-8 advantage in turnovers in the first 20 minutes, thanks in large part to Thornton, who had seven steals.
Ohio State finished with 20 turnovers while forcing 11.
For the game, the Bulldogs outscored the Buckeyes 21-7 off turnovers but the Buckeyes made up most of that deficit on second-chance points, where they had 20 to Butler’s eight.
Ohio State also had a whopping advantage at the foul line, where they made 20 of 26 attempts compared to 9 of 12 for the visitors.
The turnaround will be quick for the Buckeyes, who return to action Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. when Army pays a visit.