INDIANAPOLIS — The Ohio State women’s basketball team is one step closer to defending its back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles.
The No. 5-seeded Buckeyes (20-9) beat No. 5-seeded Iowa (22-8), 71-61, in Friday night’s quarterfinal matchup at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It was a “battle of the Johnsons” in the opening minutes of the contest. Iowa sophomore center Morgan Johnson scored the first six points for the Hawkeyes. Buckeye senior guard Brittany Johnson matched Morgan’s production, nailing her first two 3-point field goals of the game. OSU’s Johnson helped the Buckeyes take an early 10-8 lead.
Senior center Jantel Lavender was slow to get involved in the Buckeyes’ offense in the first half. Lavender, who shot only 2-for-5 from the field in the half, scored her first points of the game with 8:18 left until half time.
Neither team was able to take a substantial lead in the first half. OSU coach Jim Foster said his team’s offense was sloppy in the first half.
“I thought we were a little careless with the ball,” Foster said. “We were forcing too much in the first half.”
OSU and Iowa matched each other’s up-tempo style of play throughout the opening 20 minutes. Ten first-half lead changes did not allow the teams to separate, and OSU and Iowa finished the half tied, 27-27.
Lavender, along with freshman forward Ashley Adams, began to reverse OSU’s first-half inefficiencies immediately after the intermission.
Lavender and Adams each scored on their first two shots of the half before sophomore guard Tayler Hill contributed five points of her own to help the Buckeyes to a 40-30 lead with 13:55 to play.
But Iowa wasn’t done yet.
After a Hawkeye basket, Iowa sophomore guard Jaime Printy stole OSU’s inbound pass and connected on a layup as she was fouled. After completing the three-point play, Printy made two more free throws on Iowa’s next possession to narrow the deficit to 52-51 with 7:45 remaining.
Printy, who finished with a team-high 19 points, said the back-and-forth game was enjoyable.
“Close games like that are always fun,” Printy said. “They went on runs and we went on runs and we just came out a little short.”
The Buckeyes saw Iowa’s run — and then raised it.
With less than five minutes to play, OSU’s Johnson banked a 3-pointer off the glass on a side-angle shot from the corner of the court. The basket was one of seven 3-pointers Johnson made in the game.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Johnson’s 3-point shooting performance was impressive.
“When you bank in a three from the sideline you know life is going pretty well for you,” Bluder said. “(Johnson) is a very good set shooter.”
Johnson said she was as surprised as anyone that the shot went in.
“It just happened,” Johnson said. “I was shocked myself.”
Johnson turned to her OSU teammates on the bench, grinned and shrugged after banking in the shot.
The smile on Johnson’s face was a sign of things to come for the Buckeyes.
Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points and gave the Buckeyes a 66-61 lead with time winding down after connecting on three 3-pointers in the final five minutes of the game.
“I was just in the zone, I guess,” Johnson said. “I was focusing really hard. My teammates had confidence in me.”
Free throws helped extend OSU’s lead to 71-61 in the closing seconds as OSU hung on for the win.
Bluder was complimentary of the Buckeyes after the game.
“They’re playing like they are the best team in the Big Ten right now,” Bluder said. “They were the better team tonight.”
OSU continues Big Ten Tournament play with a semifinal round game against No. 1-seeded Michigan State (26-4) on Saturday.
Saturday’s game will be the third meeting between the Buckeyes and Spartans this year. OSU swept the regular-season series against Michigan State. The semifinal match also will see Lavender battle against Spartan senior forward Kalisha Keane for the first time since the two were named Co-Big Ten Players of the Year.
Foster said there are three components to a victory for his team against Michigan State: “Guard them. Make shots. Ball movement.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans will tip off about 7:30 p.m. at Conseco Fieldhouse.