On what was far from its best day, the sixth-ranked Ohio State women’s basketball team relied on its two best players to pick up what figures to be an important road win by the time the Big Ten race winds down.
Samantha Prahalis scored a career-high 32 points, including the eventual game-winning tallies, while Jantel Lavender added 20 points and 13 rebounds as the Buckeyes rallied to defeat No. 19 Michigan State 65-62 on Saturday afternoon in East Lansing.
Prahalis, the Buckeyes’ point guard, broke a 61-all tie by making two free throws with 1:14 remaining in the game, much to the chagrin of many of the 12,412 in attendance at the Breslin Center.
Michigan State’s Lykendra Johnson followed by splitting a pair of freebies, then Lavender hit a pair to give the Buckeyes a three-point advantage with 35 seconds left.
Neither team scored again, and two of the Spartans’ final three shots were blocked.
The Buckeyes (17-1, 5-0) broke a two-game losing streak at the Breslin Center and took a commanding three-game lead in the conference race over the Spartans (11-5, 2-3), who were picked before the season as the top challenger to the Big Ten throne Ohio State has occupied for five straight seasons.
Ohio State entered the weekend as the only team left without a league loss. Second-place Minnesota (10-5, 2-1) plays at Illinois on Sunday.
Ohio State’s halfcourt offense struggled for much of the game, forcing Prahalis to take matters into her own hands. She made 4 of 10 three-pointers and manufactured points with repeated drives to the basket and ended up earning 13 free throw attempts, of which she made 8. Prahalis added six rebounds, five assists and two steals as well.
Lavender struggled to get clean looks against the defense of 6-9 center Alyssa DeHaan, but the Buckeyes’ All-American still managed a double-double by getting to the foul line. The 6-4 Lavender was a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity stripe and made 5 of 15 shot from the floor.
DeHaan was not much better from the floor, going 4 for 11, and scored 12 points. She grabbed only four boards. Picking her up in that area was Johnson, a forward who grabbed 12 rebounds and shared the team lead in scoring with 13. Aisha Jefferson, a Dayton Chaminade-Julienne product, also had 13, while Brittney Thomas added 10.
Ohio State shot 34.6 percent (18 for 52) and never got the offense untracked, but the defense was a constant. The Buckeyes held the Spartans to 32.2 percent shooting (19 for 59).
Both teams made more free throws (22 apiece) than field goals.