Against Illinois, the Buckeyes (15-3, 6-1) looked markedly better than their last time out, a 59-56 loss to Minnesota on the same Value City Arena floor where they controlled the Fighting Illini for most of the contest Thursday night.
No one in the home white uniforms looked more set to atone for the most-recent performance than Jantel Lavender, who scored a game-high 30 points and grabbed 12 points to spearhead the victory. She made 15 of 24 shots after being held to just 6 field goal attempts by the Golden Gophers.
“I was excited,” she said. “We had a week off, and I was just ready to play. I know Illinois always comes to play hard, and they try to get after it because they’ve had a rough start, so they’re trying to find wins. We knew they were going to come in here and play hard, so my enthusiasm came from not playing in a week and just being excited to play again.”
She had the first basket of the game and later notched two scores in an 8-0 run that stretched an 18-15 lead to 11 points between 8:09 and 7:06 of the first half.
The Buckeyes led 36-27 at the break, an advantage they stretched to as many as 16 in the first five minutes of the second half.
The Fighting Illini (4-16, 0-9) cut the lead to eight with a three-point play from Jenna Smith that made it 55-47 with 5:19 to go, but Ohio State pulled away from that point.
Star Allen made both ends of a one-and-one, then Sarah Schulze stuck a jump shot from near the foul line to put the lead back to 12.
Ohio State’s Maria Moeller capped a 7-0 spurt with an old-fashioned three-point play at the 3:53 mark, and after a basket by Illinois’ Josil Fabiola, Ohio State scored six in a row to extend to the largest lead of the night, 68-49.
Lydia McCully made a jump shot for the Illini to end the scoring and set the final margin.
Allen, a senior who also struggled against Minnesota, complemented Lavender against the Illini by scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
“I just felt like I played a bad game against Minnesota and I had to pick it up as far as being a senior and being one of the ones who has experience,” Allen said.
Ohio State also got a lift from the return of Shavelle Little, a junior guard who missed the Minnesota game and did not practice this week while recovering from a knee injury suffered from a fall on ice last week.
She did not start, but less than 30 seconds after entering the game at the 16:59 mark, she made her mark by deflecting an inbound pass that led to an Ohio State steal on her first defensive possession. Then she stole the ball from Josil at halfcourt to start a break that concluded with a layup for Lavender.
“She always (helps us),” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said. “She got a little tired and let a couple of kids go by her, but you need to be out there. You need to get some minutes and get your wind.”
Smith, an All-Big Ten first-team selection in the frountcourt last season like Lavender, led the visitors with 19 points. She mad 7 of 18 shots.
McCully, one of two Ohioans on the Illinois roster, was the other Illini to score in double figures. The Bedford Heights native had 11 points. Macie Blinn, a freshman from Greenville, chipped in four points and a pair of assists.
The crowd of 2,934 whistled and clapped with appreciation as the Buckeyes dribbled out the final seconds to win something of a rubber match from a team that gave them fits a season ago.
In the fifth game between the two schools in 370 days, Ohio State won for the third time.