After a taut first half in which neither team led by more than five, the visiting Flyers were the first to gain some breathing room by scoring 10 of the first 13 points after halftime.
A seven-point lead reached 10 when Dayton’s Kendel Ross made an open three-pointer from the right corner, but down 49-39 with 12:44 to go, the 20th-ranked Buckeyes made their stand.
Ohio State’s Sarah Schulze made a three-pointer from the right wing to cut the lead back to seven, then after Casey Nance made a free throw for Dayton, Buckeye point guard Samantha Prahalis took her turn.
First she drilled a desperation three-pointer from the left corner with the shot clock running down, then after a stirring defensive stand Prahalis drove the length of the floor for a runner that banked in as she went to the floor in a heap of bodies under the basket. She drew a foul on the play and made the ensuing free throw to pull the Buckeyes within two, 48-50.
Jantel Lavender made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 50 with 9:43 to play, and though Ross answered with a layup to restore the Flyers’ lead, the Buckeyes were building momentum by stringing together defensive stops.
After Ross’ basket, the Flyers went nearly five minutes without a field goal, mustering just a pair of free throws by Kristin Daugherty.
The St. John Arena crowd roared as Ohio State went on a 14-2 run and opened up a 64-54 lead.
Lavender and Schulze both had five during the run while Prahalis added four.
The Flyers never fully recovered. Patrice Lalo made a trey and Daugherty had a layup to draw within five, but the Buckeyes responded by making six straight free throws (two from Shavelle Little and four by Lavender) to push the lead back to 11.
When all was said and done, Lavender had a game-high 27 points and 11 rebounds. She made 9 of 10 free throws, blocked three shots and was named most valuable player of the two-day tournament.
Prahalis finished with 17 points, two assists and two steals.
Off the bench, Little had six points, six rebounds and five steals.
“I thought Shavelle’s energy was terrific,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said of the junior who is adjusting to life as a spark plug off the bench after starting at point guard last season.
Schulze did not play in the first half but entered the game with just over 15 minutes to go in the game and scored 11 crucial points. She made 3 of 4 three-points and a pair of free throws. She also brought a hard-nosed defensive presence and blocked three shots.
“I just think I needed to find a group of competitive people at that moment in time, and I think Sammy and Sarah really stepped us up with their shots,” Foster said. “Sarah made a big three. Sammy made a big three and then Sammy made the running shot. The good thing after Sarah made the shot was the emotion she was showing. She was into it. Sammy made the layup and everyone ran over to pick her up. The emotion is what I liked.”
Daugherty led Dayton with 18 points while Justine Raterman had 16. Both had eight rebounds.
Nance led the Flyers on the boards with 10 rebounds. She fouled out with seven points and three blocked shots.
The Flyers brought a vocal contingent of fans east with them and gave the Buckeyes all they wanted.
The emotion of the visitors was still evident on the faces of head coach Jim Jabir and Raterman in the postgame interview room.
“I think that our kids had tremendous heart,” said Jabir, whose team returns one starter from a squad that won 25 games last season. “We controlled the boards and really did a great job doubling down on Lavender for the most part. I thought she got pretty frustrated.”
Lavender made just 9 of 21 shots in the game. She had just two rebounds in the first half when the Buckeyes were outrebounded 27-18.
Dayton (4-3) finished with 42 rebounds to the Buckeyes’ 39, but after scoring 12 second-chance points in the first half the Flyers had just one in the last 20 minutes. Ohio State had 15 points off offensive rebounds, including 10 in the second half.
In the second half, the Buckeyes had five steals (nine for the game) and also took better care of the ball. They turned it over just twice while dishing out seven assists. They had five turnovers and eight assists in the first half.
“I think they turned up the pressure in the second half, and I thought our inexperience showed through a little bit,” Jabir said. “We kind of cracked under the pressure. The crowd got into it. Their physicalness and their size I think wore on us. Our center fouled out and that kind of put us in a bad place.”
Lavender, Raterman and Prahalis were all named to the Buckeye Classic all-tournament team along with Britini Houghton of Central Michigan and Christine Kinneary of Boston.
Prior to the title game, Central Michigan (4-2) beat Boston (3-4) in the consolation contest.
Saturday saw Ohio State beat Boston 72-47 and the Flyers upend the Chippewas 78-76 to advance to the championship.