18th ranked Ohio State completed its Thanksgiving week stretch of three games in six days by hosting 20th ranked LSU. LSU suffered a close home loss to Northwestern last week but were still the first ranked opponent OSU had faced this season and promised to be a stiff test for a young Buckeye team. This game also marked the first OSU women’s basketball game that I attended as a member of the media. After spending four years in the athletic band and playing at women’s games it was a very different experience and I had to actively fight the urge to cheer and be as vocal as I normally am at these games.
Ohio State opened the game with a three-pointer from Samantha Prahalis and a short jumper by Kalpana Beach but LSU quickly responded, cutting the OSU lead to 7-4. An old fashioned three point play by Beach ignited a 7-0 Buckeye run that stretched the lead to 14-4. The Tiger defense responded by tightening up inside and clogging the interior passing lanes, forcing several OSU turnovers and sparking a 16 to 4 run that gave the Tigers a 20-18 lead just past the midway point of the half. Ohio State retook the lead at the eight minute mark as redshirt freshman guard Amy Scullion drove to the basket and hit an impressive shot while being fouled; she made the free-throw to make the score 23-22 in favor of the Buckeyes. The Tigers quickly retook the lead and were ahead 28-25 when Prahalis hit her second three-pointer of the game to tie the score at 28 with 2:20 remaining on the clock. The crowd came alive at that point and got even louder on the next LSU possession when Prahalis came up with a steal that she converted into a layup to give Ohio State back the lead. A pair of free throws by Tayler Hill would stretch the OSU lead to four but LSU hit a pair of free throws of their own in the closing minute to send the teams into the locker rooms with Ohio State leading 32-30.
LSU is a more athletic team than the average Big Ten team and their athleticism caused some problems for Ohio State’s interior defense. The Buckeyes struggled to effectively guard against the Tiger’s cuts to the basket and were often caught out of position. Ohio State also struggled to effectively box out and LSU took advantage by converting offensive rebounds into easy second chance points; the Tigers grabbed 9 offensive boards and turned them into 10 second chance points. For the half LSU shot 37% while Ohio State shot 44%. The Buckeyes continued to struggle from beyond the arc, hitting only 2 of their 9 three point attempts.
Just as she did in the first half, Samantha Prahalis opened the second half with a three-pointer. LSU responded with a basket but OSU quickly got those points back thanks to an electrifying drive by Tayler Hill where she split a pair of Tiger defenders on the way to the basket. A pair of LSU baskets tied the score at 37 with seventeen minutes remaining. LSU would take a one point lead with a free throw but a Prahalis three-pointer gave the lead right back to OSU, 40-38. The two teams began trading baskets and the lead and at the midway point of the second half the score was knotted at 48. The Buckeyes built a four point lead thanks to Prahalis and Hill each hitting a pair of free throws. LSU hit a basket to cut the lead to but Ohio State responded with a pair of three-pointers by Prahalis which bracketed an LSU basket to give the Buckeyes a 58-52 lead with just under eight minutes remaining and force the Tigers to take a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Amber Stokes came up with a steal which led to a long pass to Kalpana Beach who brought the crowd to its feet with an easy layup. The two teams went back to exchanging baskets for the next four minutes before a pair of LSU baskets cut the Ohio State lead to 68-65 with just under four minutes left in the game. OSU quickly stretched the lead back 6 as Tayler Hill hit an NBA range three-pointer with the shot clock expiring; you could sense the entire crowd holding its breath as the shot hit the rim, bounced straight up, and the fell through the basket. Ohio State held a 71-66 lead with forty seconds remaining and LSU was forced to start fouling. Tayler Hill and Darryce Moore each calmly hit a pair of free throws to stretch the OSU lead to 75-66. A basket by LSU and a pair of free throws by Hill ended the game and gave Ohio State a 77-68 victory.
Ohio State put together a much better second half. While they still struggled on the boards, they cut down on the number of second chance points allowed, giving up only 3 in the second half after giving up 10 in the first. OSU also found their touch from behind the arc, going 5 of 8 from long range in the second half. Prahalis was the hottest from three-point range and the rest of the team did a good job of finding her and getting her the ball when she had open looks. After committing 10 turnovers in the first half, the Buckeyes did a much better job taking care of the second half, committing only 4 turnovers after intermission.
For the game Ohio State shot 48%, including 41% from beyond the arc, easily their best three-point shooting performance of the year. Samantha Prahalis led the way with 28 points, 18 of those coming from beyond the arc. Sammy’s contribution was not limited to scoring; she dished out 8 assists, grabbed 8 rebounds, and committed only two turnovers. Tayler Hill and Kalpana Beach also reached double digits in scoring, contributing 23 and 13 points, respectively. Hill did a great job of attacking the basket and drawing fouls, going 12 of 12 from the free throw line. Beach had a came up with 6 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Defensively Ohio State struggled a bit, allowing LSU shoot 41% on the night. The Tigers also won the rebound battle, out-rebounding the Buckeyes 41 to 31; nineteen of the LSU boards came on the offensive end. LSU had flurries where they were dominating the offensive glass but down the stretch Ohio State adjusted, switching to more of a matchup defense that helped to cut down on some of the LSU offensive boards.
This was the first time I had gotten to see freshman forward Kalpana Beach in action and I came away very impressed. Beach has great size and looks like she is going to be able to hold her own against the physical inside play that is typically seen in Big Ten ball. She also plays with an intensity and presence that is not typically seen in freshmen, moving well without the ball on both ends and displaying an ability to hit jump shots in addition to layups. It is less than a month into the season but I would put money on Beach being named to the Big Ten All-Freshmen team come March.
This win completes a busy week for the Buckeyes who had three games in six days, plus the Thanksgiving holiday and final exams coming up soon. The quick turnaround times and the non-basketball distractions tested the focus of the team but they responded well. They had some moments where the focus seemed to be lacking but then managed to switch back into attack mode and step up their play; this was very noticeable in the second half of today’s game. This experience should prove valuable down the stretch as the players have to deal with similar situations come tournament time.
This game was definitely a battle and was a great experience for a young team. While the scoring was dominated by the two veteran guards, Hill and Prahalis, contributions in various areas came from a number of players. This is a great thing to see, young players finding a way to contribute in a close game. The schedule does not get easier for the Buckeyes this week as they host a very good Florida State squad on Wednesday in a game that will be broadcast on BTN as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.