Ohio State advanced to the final of the Preseason WNIT with a dominant 92-69 victory over visiting West Virginia on Thursday night at Value City Arena in Columbus.
The third-ranked Buckeyes scored the first 17 points and only saw their lead dip below double figures once thereafter as they improved to 4-0.
“We’ve been starting games strong but I’m not that clairvoyant,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said when asked if he envisioned such a torrid beginning. “We’re executing offensively and we’re pushing tempo and doing that every day. We’re getting better in the halfcourt and in transition I think we’re pretty good.”
His counterpart on the West Virginia sideline saw nothing fancy the Buckeyes were doing early on.
“They just came out more aggressive. They came out and outhustled us the first 10 minutes of the game and we played from behind the whole time,” said Mountaineer mentor Mike Carey.
He called a timeout 1:30 into the game after the Buckeyes scored the first nine points of the game, but the stoppage didn’t do much to help the visitors.
The Buckeyes scored eight more before the Mountaineers (2-1) finally got on the board via a layup by Vanessa House 4:24 into the game.
Brittany Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers during the run while Tayler Hill added five points, Samantha Prahalis had four and Jantel Lavender two, but the Buckeyes could not run away and hide just yet.
West Virginia worked its way back into the game over the next nine minutes, including Sarah Miles’ pair of free throws that pulled the Mountaineers within eight at the 6:49 mark.
The Buckeyes responded with a patient pacing through their offense that resulted in a basket in the paint from Lavender, and after a West Virginia turnover, they cycled through another offensive set to produce an open shot for Maria Moeller, who drained a three-pointer from the right wing.
Those two baskets were the start of an 11-0 Ohio State spurt that also included a pair of Shavelle Little layups and a deep jumper by Lavender.
WVU guard Liz Rapella ended the run with an easy layup after an Ohio State breakdown on an inbound play under the basket, and Vanessa House made a trey for five quick Mountaineer points, but Ohio State responded with the last six of the half.
Prahalis knifed through the heart of the Mountaineer defense for a layup then stepped in a passing lane and raced up floor for an easy two more.
Defense also led to the last basket of the half as Maria Moeller deflected a Mountaineer pass to teammate Sarah Schulze, who finished at the other end with a layup that gave the Buckeyes a 44-24 lead at the break.
In the second half, Ohio State built its lead to 29 within the first five minutes, but the Mountaineers eventually drew within 14 at 64-50 thanks to a layup by Bussie with 10:51 to go.
The Buckeyes scored nine of the next 11 points in the contest as Prahalis set up Schulze for a three, completed a conventional three-point play herself then found Moeller for a trey that pushed the lead back above 20 points, 73-52, with 8:17 to go.
Lavender was 9 for 10 from the field (on the heels of a 12 for 13 performance in her previous game) and led the Buckeyes with 19 points. Prahalis and Hill added 14 apiece and Johnson had 13.
Prahalis also dished out 12 assists to notch the first double-double of her career.
The Buckeyes improved to 10-0 in the all-time series with West Virginia.
Rapella led the Mountaineers with 23 points while House added 12 and Miles had 10.
The game included the return of Little and fellow senior guard Cherise Daniel from a three-game suspension levied by unspecified secondary NCAA violations.
Upon seeing her first action off the bench in the first half, Little immediately blocked a shot. On the next defensive possession, she had a steal and a layup, leaving little doubt she was back.
“I was pumped,” she said. “I had a lot of energy. I did sit three games. I think I was just doing what i normally would do in a game. That was just me.”
She finished with 11 points, just the fifth time the two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year has scored in double figures in 92 career games.
Ohio State advances to face Oklahoma State in the final of the Preseason WNIT at 2 p.m. Sunday at Value City Arena.