The baby races at the intermission were arguably more entertaining than the first 20 minutes of basketball, during which the 17th-ranked Buckeyes (12-2, 3-0) shot 36.4 percent from the floor but dominated nonetheless with defense.
They led by 20 at intermission thanks to a stifling defense spearheaded, as usual, by guards Shavelle Little and Samantha Prahalis.
Little had three steals and Prahalis one, and the pair deflected countless other balls to help the visitors commit 14 turnovers.
When the Spartans (9-6, 2-2) could hang onto the ball, the Buckeyes rarely allowed them good shots, and the result was a 7-for-24 shooting performance (29.2 percent) from the floor in the first half.
Ohio State never trailed, and the Buckeyes exerted control of the game immediately by scoring 18 of the first 20 points.
Allen’s layup at the 18:12 mark snapped a 2-all tie and kicked off a 16-0 spurt that lasted until Porsche Poole hit a three-pointer for the Spartans at the 11:51 mark.
Lavender scored eight, Ashlee Trebilcock hit a pair of three-pointers and Allen and Prahalis both had one basket apiece during the run.
After Poole’s trey, the Buckeyes were hardly ready to let up. They would go on to stretch the lead to as much as 25 on a couple of occasions.
In the final minutes of the first half, just about the only thing in question was whether or not Michigan State would head to the locker room with more points than turnovers.
They committed 14 miscues and had just 10 points until a 7-2 flurry in the final 1:02.
Allyssa DeHaan made a midrange jumper then Courtney Schiffauer made turnaround jumper in the lane followed by a three-pointer at the buzzer to set the halftime margin at 37-17 in favor of the home team.
DeHaan’s basket was one of just two she managed in the first 20 minutes. The 6-9 junior also picked up a pair of fouls, two turnovers, four points, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 19 minutes.
She picked up a third foul 16 seconds into the second half and was hardly seen from again. The two-time All-Big Ten center finished with six points, seven rebounds and one block in 25 minutes.
Lauren Aitch came off the bench to be the only Spartan to score in double figures. She had 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
In the second half, the Spartans came out noticeably more aggressive but found the deficit too much to overcome. They trailed by as many as 27 and never got closer than 14 in front of 5,210 fans.
For the game, Ohio State forced 24 turnovers, which they converted into 19 points, and they held the Spartans to 37.5-percent shooting (21 for 56) from the floor.
“You reach a certain point in the season where you’re starting to establish an identity,” Foster said. “I would like to think we’re becoming a pretty intense, aggressive defensive basketball team.”
Michigan State had coach Suzy Merchant was just the latest to see the new and improved Buckeyes.
“Today I thought they were the most physical team that we’ve played, for sure, and the best team we’ve played,” Merchant said, giving credit to first-year guard Prahalis for much of the difference in the Buckeyes from this year to last.
Prahalis struggled to put the ball in the basket against the Spartans, making just 2 of 14 field goals, but she handed out seven assists to go with four steals, five points and three rebounds. She also blocked a shot.
“I think she’s changed the dynamic of the team in the energy that she brings,” Merchant said. “She plays with a lot of passion and enthusiasm and you can just see how that has carried over into everybody. Jantel Lavender is running the floor better than she’s ever run. The wings are getting out. It seems like Trebilcock now can really get out and pressure the wings and handle a dribble drive and I felt like maybe a year ago maybe she wasn’t as good at that, but it just seems like (Prahalis) has spilled that confidence over and that swagger into everybody.”
Prahalis and Little, who had six points and four steals Sunday, give the Buckeyes quite a tandem with which to attack opposing backcourts.
“Shavelle Little is a one-man press, and then now they’ve got guys that can get out and pressure on the wing a little bit more,” Merchant said.
When last seen in Value City Arena, the Michigan State women’s basketball team escaped with a 62-59 victory Feb. 18, 2007.
Back then Lavender was still a senior at Cleveland Central Catholic High School, but since she donned the scarlet and gray, the Buckeyes have not lost to a Big Ten team on their home floor.
They did lose the only meeting with Michigan State since, however. That was a 60-53 decision in East Lansing on Dec. 30, 2007.
DeHaan had big games both previous times she faced the Buckeyes, posting 25 points and five blocks as a freshman and adding 18 points last season while getting the better of Lavender, who scored 11.
“She never got into a flow,” Merchant said of DeHaan in her third go round with Ohio State. “I felt like in past games at least she would rebound and block shots but she couldn’t get anywhere near Jantel to make a difference. From the tip I felt like she was very reserved and timid.”
Part of DeHaan’s struggles were a result of Ohio State’s game plan.
“We were working on pulling me out more, keeping her away from the basket, looking for Star more because Star can post up the other post player,” Lavender said. “Getting Allyssa away from the basket was our goal.”