After struggling through a portion of its Big Ten schedule, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is starting to turn it around.
With an 89-67 win over No. 23 Penn State Thursday, the Buckeyes (16-9, 7-6 Big Ten), have won three straight games and continue to climb the muddled conference standings.
OSU coach Jim Foster said, in a postgame press conference, that his team has picked up its defensive intensity over the last three games.
“At no point in time was I in doubt that we would finish the season strongly,” he said. “Most people come and they see a two-hour blip. We see a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that we like.”
The game was tied 6-6 with 14:53 left in the first half. After a layup by senior center Jantel Lavender, the Buckeyes took the lead and never relinquished it.
The Lady Lions (21-7, 10-4 Big Ten), struggled with turnovers, committing 27. They came into the game averaging 17.3 turnovers per contest.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington said the turnovers were “the difference in the game.”
“We turned the ball over and they’re able to go down and score in transition,” she said. “Ohio State is just a dangerous team in transition.”
The Buckeyes turned the Lady Lions’ turnovers into 30 points on offense and had 10 fast break points.
Lavender, who was honored before the game for breaking OSU’s career scoring record Sunday, finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Former Buckeye guard Katie Smith (1992-96), who held the all-time scoring mark before Lavender, recorded a video message for Lavender. The video played at Value City Arena before the game.
“It was really nice that she took time out to congratulate me,” Lavender said. “She held that record for so long so she’s probably like ‘Oh, that’s awesome.'”
Lavender helped a fellow Buckeye break a record of her own.
Junior Samantha Prahalis set the OSU career assist record after Lavender converted the guard’s signature behind-the-back pass into a turn-around jumper. Prahalis finished the game with 11 assists.
With both the scoring and assist records falling in the same week, Foster said he went “out of character” and reflected on what the records meant to him.
“It’s going to be very difficult to recruit someone who can break them,” he said. “But, we’ll try.”
With 14:40 remaining in the second half, OSU led by 23 after sophomore guard Tayler Hill hit two consecutive free throws.
Lavender said Hill’s defense was key for the team.
“Our flow started because of our defensive intensity,” she said. “Tayler really set the tone for us on defense and we all fell into place with that.”
The Lady Lions cut the OSU lead to 10 three different times in the second half, but couldn’t get the deficit under double digits.
“Coach called a 30-second timeout and just said we had to get stops,” Lavender said. “We just started to calm down on defense.”
Ohio State’s next game is Sunday at Purdue (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten). The Buckeyes won their previous meeting, 90-67.