The second-seeded Buckeyes (31-4) opened up an 11-0 lead against No. 15 St. Francis (Pa.) in the opening three minutes then never looked back en route to a 98-59 victory Sunday afternoon.
The underdogs won the opening tipoff, but that was about as good as it got for the Red Flash (17-15). They turned the ball over then gave up a three-pointer to Brittany Johnson that established a lead that was never less than three the rest of the game.
Johnson’s three was a second-shot opportunity, and those along with turnovers would be continuing themes throughout a first half Ohio State dominated to the tune of 55-28 on the scoreboard.
Jantel Lavender’s first basket of the day gave Ohio State a 5-0 lead then Sarah Schulze and Johnson made threes back to back, prompting SFU head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl to call timeout with 17:44 to go.
Her team responded with a bit of life.
First 6-4 SFU center Janie Killian stuffed a Lavender shot attempt back in the All-American’s face, then Samantha Leach scored a layup and Britney Hodges added a three-pointer for the Red Flash.
The teams traded baskets to make it 13-7, then Ohio State went on a 19-2 run to take firm control of the contest.
Six different Buckeyes scored during the decisive spurt, one that started with a driving layup from Tayler Hill and ended with six points in a row by defensive specialist Shavelle Little.
The last of those came from a steal and a fast-break layup that gave the Buckeyes a 32-9 advantage with 9:44 remaining in the half.
The closest the Red Flash would get the rest of the way was 17.
The squad did so twice in the first half, the second coming with a Red Flash three-pointer by Allison Daly with 4:24 to play.
The Buckeyes responded with a 10-0 run that again concluded with six consecutive points from Little.
“She was very aggressive today,” said Robinson Fruchtl. “I’m sure she is happy with her play. It’s important for older kids to step up like that.”
In the second half, Ohio State led by as many as 43 in the second half and set the school record for wins in a season.
Although both teams grabbed nine of their own misses in the first half, Ohio State outscored St. Francis 14-5 in second-chance points.
That disparity and a 16-8 Ohio State advantage in fast-break points proved far too much for the cold-shooting Red Flash to overcome.
“We felt like we were going to get shots,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “We have all year with our offense. It’s just a matter of knocking them down or not. If we would have hit a few more of those shots I think the momentum would have shifted. Missing the shots early gave Ohio State a lot of momentum and confidence, and it probably didn’t help our confidence that much.”
Ohio State also outscored St. Francis 13-4 in transition in the opening half.
“We kind of made them rush and play our style of play,” said Lavender, who scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds for her 20th double-double of the season. “That’s what we need to start doing and really focus on for the rest of the tournament.”
She was one of a handful of Buckeyes who were still feeling the ill effects of what was believed to be food poisoning traced to sandwiches some team members ate the day before.
The junior center said she was feeling better after the game, and she sounded more concerned with those shots the Red Flash could have made.
“They had some really good open looks, and I think we have to take games like this and really learn from them and push for the teams like Connecticut and Florida State and Middle Tennessee - teams that can shoot the ball a lot better,” she said.
What the Buckeyes lacked in defensive rotations, they made up for with pressure on the ball and in the passing lanes as they forced 18 turnovers.
Leading the defensive charge was Little, who had four steals and a career-high 12 points in the first half and finished with five and 14, respectively.
The often excitable Little was not exactly doing backflips in the locker room after the game, however.
“My strength is defense,” she said. “I haven’t been playing as good. In the second half, I thought I was reaching a little bit, but for the most part every day I come in and just do whatever they need me to do.”
She was ready to turn her focus to the Buckeyes’ second-round contest slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday against the winner of the second game Sunday in Pittsburgh between Mississippi State and Middle Tennessee State.
Joining Little and Lavender as double-figure scorers for Ohio State were Johnson (18 points) and Samantha Prahalis (14).
Prahalis kept the ball moving crisply on the offensive end and finished with an Ohio State NCAA tournament record 13 assists.
Hodges and Brittany Lilley led St. Frances with 16 points apiece while Leach added 14.
The Buckeyes won the battle of the boards 55-38 and held St. Francis to 28.6 percent shooting (20 for 70) from the floor.
Ohio State shot 49.3 percent for the game but 59 percent in the first half.