Living in East Lansing I have come to relish opportunities to see Ohio State come to town, even though those games are always met with a bit of nervousness as I hate having to deal with Michigan State after a loss. In recent years MSU fans have developed a chip on their shoulder when it comes to the Buckeyes and so seeing OSU defeat the Spartans has become even sweeter. Today’s women’s basketball game in East Lansing promised to be a tough test for the Buckeyes as Michigan State features a talented team and there is always a large, hostile crowd in the Breslin Center for this match-up.
It was made clear from the outset that this would be a hard fought, defensive game and after about six minutes Ohio State held a 10-9 lead. Over the next four minutes the Buckeyes extended that lead to 19-13 only to see the Spartans pull ahead with 8 unanswered points. The Ohio State defense stiffened, not allowing a point over the last five minutes of the half, while the offense put up 9 straight to send the teams into the locker room with the Buckeyes holding a 28-21 lead.
Ohio State quickly stretched their lead to eleven points at the start of the second half, a margin that they would hang onto for the next 9 minutes, leading 48-37 with just under eleven minutes remaining in the game. Michigan State managed to make a little progress, cutting the OSU lead to 8 points and the two teams exchanged baskets for the next few minutes, resulting in a 59-51 lead with four and a half minutes on the clock. Five straight points from the Spartans cut the Buckeye lead to 59-56 and brought the 14,000 person strong, green and white clad crowd to their feet. Despite an empty possession by each team over the next minute the crowd kept up the impressive noise level, threatening to swing the momentum entirely in the Spartans’ favor. Samantha Prahalis took care of that as she hit a layup that quieted the crowd, something that she made sure of as she ran back down the court making her patented finger to the lips sushing motion. The Prahalis basket forced MSU to start fouling and the Buckeyes hit three of their four free throws in the last minute to salt away the 64-56 win.
Tayler Hill scored 21 points and pulled down 7 rebounds, both team highs. Samantha Prahalis added 15 points and 3 assists. Amber Stokes took advantage of the attention that the MSU defense paid Hill and Prahalis as she scored 10 points on several nice dribble drives and dished out 5 assists; Stokes continued to be a dynamic defensive player, coming up with 2 steals and a block. Darryce Moore came off of the bench to score 11 points and added a nice, physical presence inside which helped her grab 5 rebounds, a steal, and a block. Moore did get called for three fouls though and needs to make sure that she is always playing with control so that she can took full advantage of her size and physical presence.
Ohio State shot 48% from the floor and had stretches where they did an impressive job of attacking the basket off of the dribble and with backdoor cuts. However those stretches alternated with ones where the Buckeyes looked lost in the face of tough Spartan defense, committing 15 turnovers and allowing Michigan State to come up with 9 steals. Fortunately the Ohio State defense did a great job of frustrating the Spartan shooters, allowing them few open looking and holding them to 35% shooting from the floor. The only real weakness in OSU’s defensive performance was on the boards where they were outrebounded 36 to 31. The Spartans grabbed 16 of their rebounds on offense and converted those into 13 points.
This was not a pretty win for the Buckeyes but it was an important win coming just over a week after the team suffered its first loss of the year in a Big Ten road game to a different school in that state up north. OSU faced a tough, scrappy team in front of a large, hostile crowd and despite some offensive struggles and miscues, always managed to come up with a big basket when they needed it. This was made possible by great defensive play which came up with stops to give the offense opportunities to get the points that were needed. The past three games have shown that Big Ten teams will be focusing on shutting down Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill so it was great to see Amber Stokes step up and take advantage of that by attacking the basket as well as moving the ball well when other players had open looks. If Stokes can continue to put up offensive performances like today, the Buckeyes are going to give opposing backcourts nightmares. Ohio State will have another test on Thursday as they host conference newcomer Nebraska at 6:00 pm in a game that will be broadcast on BTN.