Facing its stiffest test of the season, the Ohio State women's basketball team went to its two best players.
Jantel Lavender scored 33 points and Samantha Prahalis handed out 14 assists to spur the third-ranked Buckeyes to an 83-71 defeat of No. 22 California on Sunday afternoon at St. John Arena in the championship game of the annual Buckeye Classic in Columbus.
The Buckeyes (8-0) led by as many as 10 in the first half, but California (3-2) chipped away late in the opening stanza and made a game of it early in the second.
Ohio State led 43-39 at the break, an advantage that grew to six when Lavender scored the first basket of the second half, but Cal ripped off the next eight points to go ahead 47-45 with 17:47 left in the game.
Prahalis answered with a layup 15 seconds later then helped Lavender take over the game.
“(The Buckeyes) know their identity,” Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. “Eventually it’s going to become the Sammy and Jantel show, and that’s what it became for a while. They just know their strength and they went to them. We struggled a little bit to score because we were turning the ball over and that just gave them easy looks and that gives them momentum.”
Lavender made a jumper from the baseline to put the Buckeyes back ahead then Prahalis came up with a steal and fed Lavender for another jumper and a four-point lead.
Back at the defensive end, Prahalis stole the ball again and found Lavender in position to score. She missed a jump shot but drew a foul and made both resulting free throws to put the Buckeyes ahead by six, 53-47.
Buckeye guard Shavelle Little broke Lavender’s scoring streak with a putback of a layup Prahalis missed after breaking down the defense with a drive, but Lavender was not finished.
The All-American center scored five more points in a row on a conventional three-point play and a layup (from Prahalis) to complete the 15-0 run that spanned a little more than four minutes.
Getting Lavender involved early in the second half was exactly what Prahalis hoped to do.
“At halftime we were talking and thought she didn't get enough touches so right when I got the ball I was thinking, ‘Get it to Jantel,’ because I know she’s going to explode and have a huge half, and she did,” said Prahalis, who scored 14 herself. “Every time I got her the ball, something good happened.”
Lavender had a hard time finding room around the basket early in the game, but she showed off her midrange jumper in the second half.
“She was really leaning on my left shoulder a lot forcing me to go left to try to score and I did,” said Lavender, who also had 14 rebounds to notch the 40th double-double of her career. “I just took my time, reverse pivoted and it came to me.”
Ohio State’s 60-47 lead would eventually grow to as many as 17 but never dip into single digits again.
“A great team capitalizes, and they did,” Boyle said. “They put us in a hole and now you start to scramble, and I think that was a big piece of the game for us at that moment.”
Senior point guard Alexis Gray-Lawson scored 25 points for Cal but missed 15 of 24 shots from the floor.
Ohio State forward Sarah Schulze had 15 points and helped the Buckeyes build their early lead by hitting four three-pointers in the opening minutes. She ended up 5 for 8 from the field with all her shot attempts coming from beyond the three-point arc.
“She did great,” Prahalis said. “She came out and hit like four threes. She was hot, so we gave her the ball and made it easy for her.”
“We left her open for those two threes to begin the game,” Boyle said. “She extends the defense. You can’t double off of her. She really extends the defense. We’re small at the guard spot, so our double teams really have to come from our guards, but we’re just tiny at that spot so you don’t have a big person double teaming Jantel and that just makes it more difficult, but you can’t leave her open, so she just extends the defense.
Ohio State won its Thanksgiving weekend tournament for the second year in a row and eighth time in nine tries.
Lavender was named most valuable player for the second year in a row, while Prahalis, Lavender and Gray-Lawson were named to the all-tournament team along with Kerah Nelson of IUPUI and Hannah Kador of Southern.
The Bears are the first ranked team Ohio State has played this season, but they won’t have to wait long to take on another.
The Buckeyes play at No. 10 Duke at 7 p.m. Thursday as part of the ACC/Big Ten women’s basketball challenge.