After a one game hiatus due to my own illness and being out of town, our women’s basketball coverage resumes with today’s must win game between #24 Ohio State and #10 Michigan State. Thursday’s embarrassing loss at Northwestern dropped OSU to 1-3 in the Big Ten and all but eliminated them from Big Ten title contention. Meanwhile MSU entered this game on a 14 game winning streak and leading the conference.
Both teams started slow thanks to poor shooting, combining for five missed baskets before the Buckeyes got the game’s first points more than two minutes into the action. Ohio State got the games next four points to take a 6-0 lead before the Spartans got on the board with a pair of free throws. The next trip down the floor proved to be greatly concerning for the Buckeyes as senior forward Sarah Schulze went down clutching her knee in obvious pain before being carried off to the locker room. Michigan State put up another five points to take a 7-6 lead. Samantha Prahalis gave the Buckeyes the lead on the next trip down the floor with a nice drive to the basket off of a pass from Jantel Lavender. A foul on Jantel Lavender sent the Spartans to the line where they regained the lead. At this point, with about 13 minutes left on the clock, Amber Stokes entered the game for the Buckeyes and provided an instant spark of energy, taking the ball to the hoop and getting fouled. Stokes made one free throw to tie the game but on OSU’s next possession she once again drove to the hoop and came away with a basket. A steal by Sammy Prahalis on the MSU trip down the floor led to a long feed to guard Brittany Johnson for an easy fastbreak layup that brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Buckeyes a 13-9 lead. MSU quickly rattled off 5 unanswered to pull ahead but Ohio State retook the lead thanks to an old fashioned three-point play off of a Tayler Hill drive to the basket. The two teams exchanged baskets and occasionally the lead for the rest of the half and the Buckeyes went into the locker room leading 33-29.
The Buckeyes played a box-and-1 defense for the first half, mostly having Tayler Hill shadow Michigan State leading scorer Kalisha Keane. This proved to be very effective as it limited Keane and seemed to cause the Spartans to rush their offense. On the other end the Buckeyes continued to struggle from beyond the arc but did a good job of attacking inside. Jantel Lavender put up 14 points in the first half and did a great job of drawing fouls on those guarding her.
A big concern for the second half was whether the superior depth of Michigan State would be able to wear down Ohio State who normally do not go very deep into their bench and now have to contend with the absence of Sarah Schulze who sprained her knee in the first half. Tayler Hill and Brittany Johnson opened the scoring by each hitting a 3-pointer to extend the Ohio State lead to a game high 10 points. A short jumper with the shot clock expiring and a slick drive to the hoop by Michigan State cut the lead to 6, 39-33. Ohio State extended their lead to 44-35 with 13:40 remaining when Michigan State forward Lykendra Johnson picked up her fourth foul and had to go to the bench. Lykendra is one of the best forwards in the conference and had been the Spartan who had the most success guarding Lavender in the first half. At this point Michigan State startled to look very rattled and despite some unforced miscues, the Buckeyes widened the gap to lead 51-35 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the half. The next 5 minutes saw the two teams trade baskets, which was fine with the Buckeyes. Michigan State was not done though as they scored 6 unanswered to cut the lead to 59-48 with just under 3 minutes remaining. The Buckeyes refused to lose though and their defense stayed strong to eliminate any chance of a Spartan comeback. In the end Ohio State pulled off a huge home victory 67-53.
There were two key’s to Ohio State win today. The first was defensive pressure. Ohio State played most of the game in a box-and-1 that really pressured Michigan State and took them out of the game. The Spartans rushed shots and in the second half just showed pure frustration in their inability to find open shots. The Buckeyes held MSU to only 29% shooting from the floor and 2 of 23 from beyond the arc; the Spartans are normally a good team from 3-point range. There were still a few lazy defensive moments, players standing around on quick drives or open shooters from outside, but this game was a huge improvement from the poor defense that the Buckeyes had been playing recently.
The other key for Ohio State was playing within themselves on the offensive end. The Buckeyes have really struggled with shooting 3-pointers this season but that had not stopped them from taking lots of long range shots. This game saw OSU being far more selective with their outside shots while focusing on working the ball inside. This led to the Buckeyes going 4 of 10 from three-point range, a much better percentage than they have been averaging this season. It will be nice to see Ohio State shoot better from long range but while they continue to struggle they need to look for other ways to score like they did today.
Jantel Lavender led both teams in scoring with 24 points, showing some nice post moves in overpowering the undersized Spartan defenders. Equally important was her ability to get Michigan State into foul trouble. Tayler Hill and Brittany Johnson joined Lavender in double figures with 17 and 10 points respectively. Hill took advantage of Michigan State leaving her unguarded on the outside by nailing two big three-pointers in the second half to blow the game open for the Buckeyes.
Amber Stokes came off the bench and once again was a major source of energy for the Buckeyes as she scored 7 points off of several nice drives to the basket. She also drew fouls on several of her drives. Hopefully we will continue to see Stokes get more minutes on the floor.
Despite the comfortable lead for most of the second half, Ohio State could have easily led by more but sloppy passing caused many turnovers that gave Michigan State additional chances to get back into the game. Today’s performance was an important step for Ohio State but they still have to show that they have regained their mental edge before they can be considered back in the Big Ten title hunt. The loss of Sarah Schulze to a knee sprain will be a challenge for the team as Schulze was a key rebounder; it will be interesting to see how Foster alters his line-up. The next test for the Buckeyes will be a trip to Illinois on Thursday where they will try to earn their first conference road win.