A crowd of 5,583 fans showed for an unusually early 11 a.m. start to watch the Buckeyes (20-5, 11-3) snap a two-game losing streak and reclaim a share of first place in the Big Ten along with Michigan State, which was idle.
Ohio State, ranked 18th, came out looking good on both ends of the floor after alternating struggles at each end during their previous two contests. One week ago, offense was in short supply during a 52-46 loss at Michigan State on Feb. 8. Four days after that, the Buckeyes scored 75 points but couldn’t stop home-standing Iowa, which prevailed thanks to 85 of its own.
This time around, Ohio State was able to pressure Northwestern (6-19, 2-12) into turnovers, turning defense into offense early to build a 22-point halftime lead.
The Buckeyes had seven steals while forcing 16 turnovers in the first half. They scored 14 points off those miscues and had eight in transition, including two of their first four baskets.
Head coach Jim Foster’s team also shared the ball well, as evidenced by 11 assists on 14 field goals in the opening 20 minutes.
They held off any potential rally by burying perimeter shots in the second half, looking to cure another recent bugaboo.
“It’s just pretty obvious we’ve got to get up and get after people defensively,” Foster said. “Now we’ve got a 41-point (second half at Iowa), a 39-point half and a 42-point playing up the floor a little bit more, and I think that’s advantageous to us.”
On Sunday the Buckeyes built a 15-4 lead in the first six-plus minutes.
Samantha Prahalis opened the game with a fast-break layup on a break started by Shavelle Little, and after a pair of baskets by Jantel Lavender, Prahalis returned the favor to Little by setting her up for another fast-break layup.
Brittany Johnson had a three-pointer and Star Allen a layup as well during the opening sequence, which concluded with Prahalis sinking a 15-foot jump shot.
The freshman point guard looked noticeably loose in the first half, and that jumper seemed to be a sure sign. She stole the ball from Maggie Mochi then set herself up for her shot in transition with a crossover dribble that backed off a Northwestern defender, giving her room for the shot.
Ohio State took firm control of the game a few minutes later with an 11-0 spurt that stretched the lead from 22-10 to 33-10. Brittany Johnson had five during that run.
In the second half, Prahalis finally found the jump shot she had been missing for a while. She buried 4 of 6 shots – all three-pointers – in the half and finished the game with a team-high 18 points.
“After practice she’s been shooting extra and it started to pay off a little bit,” Foster said.
“I just stopped thinking about it so much and focused on, like coach said, staying with my shot, but I think the biggest thing was just stop thinking about it and just want to win the game,” Prahalis said.
Lavender had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Allen and Johnson added 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Johnson, who started at guard in place of Ashlee Trebilcock (knee injury), was 3 for 3 from three-point range and drew praise from her coach for grabbing six rebounds in her 21 minutes.
The brightest spot of the day for the Wildcats was Brittany Orban, a freshman from North Canton Hoover who scored a career-high 25 points. The three-time All-Ohio first teamer was the only Wildcat to reach double figures.
“She was all jacked up to play today against Ohio State,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “That’s a big thing for her. She played in a great high school program for Hoover, but unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of help. For her, that’s a tremendous effort. She plays as hard as anyone in the league. She doesn’t have all the physical tools, yet, but she has the intensity and the effort. I was really proud of her today.”
He was hoping to be able to keep the Buckeyes from running in the open floor, where they are at their best, but Ohio State refused to let that happen.
“Tonight they got the pace up," he said. "We’re not a team that can score a lot of points. We have to win defensively. We’ve got to keep the scores in the early 50s."
At halftime, Ohio State retired the No. 44 worn by Tracey (Hall) Yarbrough from 1985-88. Hall is the first Big Ten women’s basketball player to be named a two-time Kodak All-American. She was also Big Ten freshman of the year in ’85 and the conference player of the year her final two seasons.
Hall remains Ohio State’s all-time leading rebounder (1,115) and ranks third in points (1,912), career field goals (807) and field-goal percentage (.600). Owing to her versatility, she remains fourth in steals (259) and fifth in blocks (109).
Her number is the second to be retired in program history, following the No. 30 of Katie Smith in January 2001.