The game was about as fluid as one might expect a season opener to be, but Ohio State’s initial up was big enough the Buckeyes could whether a couple of downs en route to a 91-68 victory over Eastern Illinois.
“I think from a team aspect, we learned what we need to work on,” said Ohio State center Jantel Lavender, who finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. “It was the first game, there were a lot of jitters. Everyone was excited and I think we realize what we need to get better at. We did a lot of good things, but there are a lot of things we need to improve.”
The Buckeyes and Panthers were tied at 8-all early when Ohio State ripped off a 19-0 run to take control, but the visitors did not go quietly into the unusually balmy central Ohio night.
The Panthers responded with 11 straight points of their own to pull within eight again, and they trailed only 40-30 at the half.
The Buckeyes reestablished control with a 10-0 run early in the second half.
After Tayler Hill opened the second half with a jump shot from the foul line, EIU got back within eight thanks to a free throw by Ta’Kenya Nixon and a three-pointer by Chantelle Pressley.
At the other end, Lavender drew a shooting foul and made a pair of free throws to push the lead back to 10.
Lavender missed the next time down, but teammate Sarah Schulze was there to clean things up, grabbing a rebound and putting it back up and in while drawing a foul. Schulze hit the free throw to complete the three-point play then stole the ball at the other end to start a fast break that ended with Lavender drawing another shooting foul.
Lavender made her first freebie and missed the second, but Ohio State was able to corral the rebound on the second thanks to a hustle play by Hill, who saved the ball in bounds in front of the Ohio State bench. The reward was a layup for Brittany Johnson that stretched the lead to 52-34 with 17:30 left to play.
The Panthers rattled off six in a row, but Ohio State point guard Samantha Prahalis answered those with a pair of baskets she created for herself. First she dribbled free for a fadeaway bank shot from about 12 feet, then she used a crossover dribble to get to the basket for a layup.
The closest the Panthers would be from that point on was 14.
Maggie Kloak and Pilar Walker had back-to-back baskets for EIU, then Ohio State scored seven in a row to make sure the lead would remain comfortable in front of
Lavender made a 12-foot bank shot while being fouled but missed the ensuing free throw. Walker followed with a pair of makes from the charity stripe, then Prahalis found Maria Moeller alone in the corner for a trey that stretched the Buckeyes lead to 21 at 65-44.
Lavender recorded her 38th career double-double, and Schulze tallied a career-high 18 points. She also grabbed nine rebounds in her first career start.
In her college debut, freshman Hill started and had nine points and nine rebounds.
Prahalis made it all go with eight points and eight assists, including a handful of her signature highlight-reel passes to set up teammates.
“I thought we did good at times,” Prahalis said. “It was hard to get the ball inside sometimes because of their defense, but I think we did a good job of hitting the open person.”
The open person was often Schulze, who made 3 of 6 three-pointers and brought energy at both ends of the floor.
“I was a little nervous, I mean I think most people are nervous the first time they start, but I just wanted to come in and play hard and bring emotion to the floor because I think I can,” Schulze said.
Lavender, a classmate of Schulze but a starter since her first game in scarlet and gray, said she loves playing with the Anna, Ohio, native who entered the program with little attention but figures to be an important part of a team with aspirations for the Final Four.
“She is an exciting player to play with,” Lavender said. “She can hit the three, and that’s what makes it really hard for defenses to double down because I can kick it back out to her and she can knock it down. She has a lot of emotion and she brings a lot to the game.”
Hill, one of the most highly recruited players in the country last year, showed a few flashes of her all-around talent, too, and she has already earned the admiration of Lavender.
?“She plays hard,” Lavender said. “She brings excitement, too. She gets after it. If you say Tayler, ‘Go out there and get some steals, she’ll play extremely hard.’ She’s always working. She doesn’t take plays off, and I think that’s what our team needs, players who constantly play hard, especially on the wing, and she can hit shots, so I really like her game.”
The Buckeyes return to action at 2 p.m. Sunday at Value City Arena for round two of the WNIT. They will play either Bowling Green or Chicago State