Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
It started out physical, but the bumped and bruised Buckeyes prevailed against Georgia Tech on Monday night, despite tying their season-high in turnovers.
The No. 4 seed Ohio State women’s basketball team (24-9) will advance to the Sweet 16 in Dayton, Ohio, after topping the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets, 67-60, in a hard-fought win in front of St. John Arena’s vivacious crowd. OSU now has won 11 straight games.
“It was more of a boxing match — two fighters feeling each other out,” OSU coach Jim Foster said. “Then you get into a rhythm.”
Foster’s team found that rhythm midway through the second half, when OSU was able to beat Georgia Tech’s press defense while holding the team scoreless for nearly five minutes. During that span, the Buckeyes’ lead grew from four points to 13. After that run, the Yellow Jackets (24-11) predictably stopped pressing, allowing OSU to slow down the game.
“We was getting layups,” guard Samantha Prahalis said. “I would have pulled it off, too.”
But en route to its win, the team turned the ball over 21 times. Making up for it was Jantel Lavender’s 21 points on 71.4 percent shooting, and 11 rebounds. Her double-figure scoring performance was her 135th, setting the NCAA all-time record.
“Jantel, to me, is the best post player in the country,” Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. “She’s also one of the top three players in the country overall.”
The Yellow Jackets were unable to make OSU pay for its struggles maintaining possession, as they scored just 16 points off turnovers.
But Joseph chalked her team’s loss up to the inability to make shots, especially those around the basket. Her team outshot the Buckeyes by a staggering 72-42, but only shot 38.9 percent from the field despite garnering the turnovers. The Yellow Jackets also shot only 2-of-17 from 3-point range.
“We’ve never played a game and got two free throws,” Joseph said. “That’s not the difference in the game. The difference in the game is you have to make layups.”
Behind Lavender, the Buckeyes shot 59.5 percent from the field and got double-digit points from Prahalis, guard Tayler Hill and center Ashley Adams. Brittany Johnson added 9 points, with her three 3-pointers being the team’s only ones.
“We have a lot of people that can score the ball on the floor, and sometimes we have a tendency to guard ourselves,” Foster said.
The first half was very physical, with the referees letting a lot of contact go uncalled. The tipping point came when Lavender and Georgia Tech’s Chelsea Regins got tangled up underneath the basket after Johnson nailed a 3-pointer. Offsetting technical fouls were called on the play.
After that, the game was called much tighter.
Prahalis played an unaccustomed role of peacemaker in the situation, pulling Lavender away from the officials after vehemently arguing the call. Even after his team earned the technical, Foster said he was pleased with the way his players handled the situation.
“(It was) a sign of growth, a sign of maturity,” he said. “I like the fact that Jantel needed to be calmed down, and I like the fact that Sammy calmed her down.”
Yellow Jacket Tyaunna Marshall led her team to a 30-29 first-half lead by scoring 10 points on 50 percent shooting, including a go-ahead jumper as time expired. But she scored just two points in the second to finish with 12. Guard Metra Walthour led the team in scoring with 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting.
Adams led the Buckeyes in scoring in the first half with 10 points, going 4-of-7 from the floor while Lavender scored just four.
“Sammy did a great job getting the ball up the floor quickly, which I don’t think we did great in the first half,” Lavender said. “In the second half, we had about 25 seconds to run offense, so that really made the difference for us.”
Prahalis was frustrated early by the Yellow Jackets’ physical defense against her, as they forced Hill to handle the ball more than usual. After taking a hard foul at midcourt in the first half, blood was drawn from the same spot on her leg as Saturday and she required another bandage.
But that didn’t stop her from having an effective night, scoring 16 on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting while dishing out a game-high eight assists. Her team is 15-2 this season when she registers more than seven assists.
Monday’s contest was the first ever meeting between OSU and the Yellow Jackets.
The win means the Buckeyes will have advanced to the Sweet 16 in two of the last three seasons and are now 8-2 against ranked teams this year.
On Saturday, OSU will take on No. 1 seed Tennessee — a school Lavender said she visited before signing with the Buckeyes, and whose roster she is very familiar with.
Foster, a former coach of Vanderbilt from 1991–00, said he’s plenty aware of the type of teams heralded coach Pat Summitt puts together after spending that time in the SEC. He mentioned that perhaps it would be easier playing the customary powerhouse in his team’s home state.
“We’re not playing in Knoxville. We’re not playing in Nashville,” he said. “We’re playing in Dayton, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”