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Friday, July 19, 2019

Big Ten Tournament Recap: Regular-Season Champion Buckeyes Make It a Clean Sweep

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Photo Caption: Jantel Lavender was an easy pick for the Big Ten Tournament Most Valuable Player after leading her team to a 66-64 win over Iowa in the championship game. Lavender scored a record-tying 35 points in the final game, including the two go-ahead free throws in the final seconds. She made it a double-double by grabbing 10 boards.

Photo Credit: Courtesy The Ohio State University

By Sharon Crowson

When the Big Ten Tournament was over, top-seeded Ohio State was the one team left standing.  But the road to the tournament championship was not easy.  Not easy at all.  In the semi-finals, the Buckeyes got by a scrappy Wisconsin team, 82-73, in a game that was closer than the nine-point final margin would suggest.  In the championship game, Ohio State did not take the lead for the last time until Jantel Lavender sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left in the game to give the Buckeyes a 66-64 lead.  Even then, they could not breathe easily until the final buzzer when Iowa’s Kamille Wahlin launched a 40-footer that had the correct distance but was off the mark.

To paraphrase Geno Auriemma in another context, in the final analysis, Ohio State won because they had Lavender and no one else did.  Lavender, who impressed with her class after the final horn as much as with her play before it, dominated both teams and was an easy choice as tournament Most Valuable Player.  In the three games she averaged 27 points, including a tournament-record tying 35 in the championship game. Over the same span, she averaged 8.8 rebounds a game and shot 50 percent from the field despite being the focus of everyone’s defense.

Despite starting two freshman and two sophomores, Iowa showed no nerves at the start.  A Kelly Krei three-pointer gave the Hawkeyes a 7-6 lead two minutes into the opening half.  The Hawkeyes continued to lead until two Lavender free throws gave the Buckeyes a 61-60 edge with 3:51 to go in the game.  Iowa’s largest lead was 16 points at 90 seconds into the second half, but that lead should have been even bigger.  Samantha Prahalis received her second foul with 8:23 to go in the first half, and should have gotten her third on the technical foul she earned but didn’t receive for her reaction to the call, and Lavender picked up her second four minutes later.  Both sat for the remainder of the half.

Iowa did not take enough advantage of their absence.  The Hawkeyes led by four when Prahalis went out and still led by four, 32-28, when Lavender sat.  Iowa only scored nine points over the last four minutes of the opening half, and they are a team capable of scoring many more in that period of time.

Even Iowa coach Lisa Bluder acknowledged the lapse. “I feel like there was so much time in the first half that we didn’t convert on opportunities I thought we could have converted with those two on the bench,” said Bluder after the game.

Still, the Hawkeyes left at halftime with an eight-point lead, 41-33. 

Although they stretched that lead to 16 early in the second, Iowa simply didn’t have the players to contain Lavender, who was absolutely brilliant.  She hit 14 of her 25 shots and all seven of her free throws in addition to grabbing 10 rebounds and playing strong defense.  After the game, Ohio State coach Jim Foster said it may have been her best game in an Ohio State uniform. 

“I think what separates [Lavender’s play in the championship from her other strong performances for the Buckeyes] in my opinion,” said Foster, “is we did it against a well-coached, highly motivated , hungry basketball team.  And in the not too distant future that’s all that’s going to be left playing.”

Injuries have left Bluder with just eight players for almost the entire season and that appeared to hurt the Hawks in the second half.  After playing three games in three games, several Hawks had their shots falling consistently short and Bluder simply did not have enough bodies to throw at Lavender.  Her only two centers were limited by foul problems and Iowa was unable to keep Lavender from setting up low.  Good teams and good players take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses and Ohio State is a very good team with a very good point guard.  Prahalis, despite her early struggles to contain her emotions, did an excellent job of getting the ball to Lavender in positions where she could score.

Photo Caption: Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder deserves huge props for salvaging an injury-ravaged situation that might have caused lesser programs to wilt. Despite losing so many of her top players that she was forced to suit up two walk-ons, Bluder led her squad of eight players to the Big Ten Tournament final, where they led for much of the game, and to a likely NCAA tournament bid.
Photo Credit: Courtesy the University of Iowa

As the game wore on, and Ohio State’s decision-making became better, Iowa’s became worse.  Driving to the basket and dishing out for three pointers is a large part of the Iowa offense and they normally do it very well.  They didn’t abandon that strategy but there were too many forced layups and too few passes to open perimeter players as the clock wound down and fatigue took its toll. 

Ohio State got a boost from the play of freshman Taylor Hill.  She hit a three-point shot to cut the Hawkeyes’ half-time lead to eight and was both the second-leading scorer with 14 points and the second leading rebounder with six boards. 

In the end, the better team probably won but Iowa proved that it may be the best 19-13 team in the country and that it deserves an NCAA bid.  Ohio State will enter the NCAA tourney off of two tough victories over two very good teams.  They are playing their best basketball of the season and should be ready for the Big Dance.

There was one interesting side note.  Much of the court-side conversation revolved around the youth of the Big Ten and the talent of its youngsters.  In the championship game three freshmen, three sophomores and four juniors took the floor.  Iowa has no seniors and the four that played for the Buckeyes combined for just 35 minutes.  These two teams may well meet next year at the same time in the same place.



Originally published Wed, March 10, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.