Women’s Basketball: #11 Ohio State Finishes Non-Conference Play With A 79-57 Win Over Washington State
Tonight’s game against Washington State marked the end on the non-conference portion of the Ohio State women’s basketball schedule. After seeing the departure of Brittany Johnson, last season’s best three-point shooter, and Jantel Lavender, leading scorer and rebounder in program history, at the end of last season, there were justifiably a lot of questions surrounding this year’s team. With the team having to adjust to the loss of those two key starters and facing a difficult schedule, many people expected the team to struggle a bit and go through some growing pains, as was reflected by OSU opening the season unranked for the first time in years. Fortunately the team did not listen to those questions and instead put together the best start in program history, entering tonight 12-0 and ranked #11/13 in the country. Tonight’s game against Washington State would be yet another test for the Buckeyes as the Cougars, despite their 6-5 record, were a good team that had already faced three ranked teams on the year, two of which they player very tightly, losing by 2 points to 24th ranked Gonzaga and by 4 to 14thranked Louisville.
The two teams opened the game by trading baskets with Ohio State taking an early 5-4 lead before Washington State scored 7 unanswered to take an 11-5 lead just over four minutes into the game. The Buckeyes quickly responded with seven straight of their own to take a 12-11 lead with fourteen minutes remaining in the half. The two teams went back to trading baskets and OSU led 16-15 just over nine minutes into the game when Samantha Prahalis picked up her second foul and went to the bench. The Cougars took advantage by going on an 8 to 2 run to take a 23-18 lead. The Buckeyes came right back to tie the game at 23 with just over seven minutes remaining in the break. The two teams went back to trading baskets and Ohio State led 34-33 with just over a minute remaining when Darryce Moore was called for a technical foul for retaliating after getting grabbed and dragged away from the rebound, a foul which was not called. The fans erupted in displeasure which turned to mocking cheers as the Cougars missed both free throws that resulted from the technical. The Cougars retook the lead with a basket after the missed free throws but Amber Stokes decided to take over the game, hitting a pair of free throws, coming up with a steal which she turned into an old fashioned three-point play, and then drawing an offensive foul in a span of 30 seconds. A pair of free throws by freshman guard Maleeka Kynard sent the two teams into the locker room with Ohio State leading 40-35.
Foster substituted liberally in the first half, even after Prahalis went to the bench with foul trouble and Ohio State trailing. This is a big departure from previous years where Foster rarely went more than two deep into the bench when the game was still in doubt; this speaks volumes about Foster’s trust of the younger players and the depth of the team. Foster closed the half by subbing out both Prahalis and Tayler Hill due to foul trouble, the Buckeyes responded by surging to take the lead going into the half, an impressive feat with both stars out. In total 10 different Buckeyes saw the floor in the first half and seven of them scored.
The second half opened with both teams trading baskets before Ohio State went on an 8 to 2 run to take a 56-43 lead eight minutes into the second half. The run was greatly helped by a beautiful defensive play by Amber Stokes who after getting beat on a dibble drive recovered to make a strong block that brought the crowd to its feet. Washington State broke that run but the Buckeyes quickly went on another run, this time it was a 12 to 2 run which gave the Buckeyes a 68 to 47 lead and put the game out of reach. Ohio State would cruise the rest of the way to a 79-57 victory.
Ohio State shot 44% from the floor, 35% from beyond the arc. They did a good job taking care of the ball, committing only 9 turnovers while dishing out 16 assists. Defensively the Buckeyes came up with 9 steals while forcing the Cougars to turn the ball over 18 times which Ohio State converted into 24 points.
In what has really been a breakout year for her, Tayler Hill hit a milestone tonight as she became the 30th player in the history of Ohio State women’s basketball to score 1,000 points, hitting that mark with a basket at the 15:23 point in the second half. Hill once again led the team in scoring, putting up 21 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Samantha Prahalis was close behind with 20 points, 18 of which came in the second half. Prahalis finished with a double-double, the 19th of her career, as she dished out 10 assists while also grabbing 4 rebounds and 4 steals. Most impressively she did all of that while only committing two turnovers. Prahalis hit an important milestone of her own tonight, reaching the 800 career assist mark, becoming only the third player to do so in Big Ten history. Sammy was not aware that she had done this until told about it during the postgame pressconference, she reacted with a little smile and a shrug, saying “that’s cool.” Amber Stokes and Darryce Moore each finished with 8 points. Stokes also grabbed 2 steals, had a block, and drew two offensive fouls while Moore had 6 rebound, a block, and a steal.
Kalpana Beach continues to look better since missing two games with concussion like symptoms. Beach led the team with 8 rebounds and scored 5 points and got a block. Freshman guard Maleeka Kynard had the best game of her career so far, scoring 7 total points which included a key pair of free throws to end the first half and help send the Buckeyes into the locker room with all of the momentum. Kynard did a great job of running the point to close the first half with Prahalis and Hill on the bench. When asked about whether Kynard’s performance surprised him, Foster replied “In practice she guards against Tayler Hill and (Samantha) Prahalis and then goes against Amber Stokes on the offensive end. If you can get better against them then the games are really, really easy for you and that’s what happened in my opinion.”
After 8 years of watching traditional post play with Jessica Davenport and then Jantel Lavendar at center, it is very strange to see how Ohio State has been using Ashley Adams this year. She will often start an offensive possession out high, and frequently ends up dribbling around the top of the arc. This seems like an unusual strategy as Adams has never demonstrated an outside game but her court vision and passing ability allows her to make nice passes to cutters from out high, an unusual but effective strategy.
Tonight’s game was the fourth game in six days for the Buckeyes and they showed no sign of fatigue, playing with an energy, aggressiveness, and attitude that is quickly making this my favorite of all the OSU women’s basketball teams that I have seen over the years. The overlooked story of this season, hidden behind the great performances of Hill and Prahalis, is the depth of this team despite its youth. That depth was once again on display tonight as Foster once again went deep into his bench early in the game, even when Ohio State was trailing. To make things even better, this team is not only deep but it is getting better. Coaches love to say that their team is getting better with each practice and game, with this Ohio State team that improvement is easily apparent to everyone who watches. That improvement and the energy of this team seems to have rubbed off on the fans as well as they seem more energetic than I saw while I was in undergrad and the support from the student section is far better than anything I ever witnessed during my years in school.
If you had told me before the season started that Ohio State would finish the non-conference portion of the schedule undefeated I would have told you that you were crazy. The schedule was too tough with home games against very good teams in Temple, LSU, and Florida State plus very tough road games to Oklahoma and California. Well much to my, and I think everyone’s surprise, this Ohio State team did it and set the record for best start ever by a Buckeye women’s basketball team. Now the Buckeyes get the chance to continue to shock the world as they prepare for conference play which opens with a trip to Madison to face Wisconsin on December 30th at 8pm, the game will be televised on BTN.