Tournament Most Outstanding Player Jantel Lavender puts Buckeyes ahead with two late free throws–
She scored 35 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. She picked up another award. And yes, she walked away a champion again.
Even for a three-time Big Ten player of the year, it was a big deal. Lavender capped a remarkable second-half comeback by making two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to give No. 10 Ohio State the Big Ten tourney title, 66-64 over Iowa.
“I think it was Chuck Daly who said if the two-play works, keep calling it and we’re going to the well,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “When she’s playing like that, you know, it’s a big ladle that keeps coming out of the well. You get rewarded for it.”
The Buckeyes had no complaints.
Lavender was her customary self, pushing around opponents in the post early and late. Not surprisingly, she was the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player for the second time. The only other two-time winner was Purdue’s Shereka Wright.
And it came on one of the biggest days of Lavender’s career.
She tied the tournament scoring record, a feat that had been achieved three other times, most recently in 2001 by Illinois’ Allison Curtin. Lavender needed less than 10 minutes to extend Division I’s longest active streak of consecutive double-figure scoring games to 100 and she became the third Buckeye to top 2,000 career points on the same day the Buckeyes (30-4) tied a school record for victories.
Yet it was the other accomplishments that brought out Lavender’s genteel smile.
She helped the Buckeyes’ four seniors tie another school record with their 109th career victory and, most important, locked up the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Ohio State is the first team, other than Purdue, to win back-to-back tourney titles since Penn State in 1995 and 1996.
“I think with my fellow teammates and having this championship and taking this group into the NCAA tournament is a great feeling,” Lavender said. “Two-thousand points is great, but I want to continue to get championships for my team.”
The Buckeyes hope they’ll get another chance next month San Antonio, Texas, but it will take a stronger supporting cast to turn Final Four hopes into reality.
Point guard Samantha Prahalis was slowed by foul trouble. The Buckeyes’ 3-point shooters struggled, going 5 of 17, and Iowa (19-13) was not intimidated.
Instead of relying solely on their long-range shooters, the Hawkeyes executed the perfect game plan for 30 minutes. They pressured the Buckeyes into turnovers, drew contact and when Ohio State jumped out to defend the arc, Iowa guards drove straight to the basket.
Kamille Wahlin finished with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes. Kelly Krei had 18 points and eight rebounds, nearly enough to pull a second straight Top 25 upset.
Wahlin still had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but the shot from near midcourt just missed the rim.
“I thought I had a pretty good look,” Wahlin said. “I felt like Kelly threw the ball in a perfect position, and I turned around. I was probably pretty far out, so that didn’t work to my advantage. I just tried to get a good look, and let it go. Unfortunately, it didn’t go in.”
Now the Hawkeyes must hope the NCAA selection committee were impressed enough to give them an at-large berth.
Iowa took control quickly, using a 13-3 run to take a 20-9 lead with 14:02 to go in the first half. They still led 41-33 at the half.
The Hawkeyes kept the pressure on in the second half, taking just 95 seconds to make an 8-0 run for a 49-33 lead while drawing third fouls on Prahalis and Ohio State’s Brittany Johnson.
But the Buckeyes, now 8-2 when trailing at halftime, rallied.
Prahalis jump-started a 10-0 run that got Ohio State within 51-47 with 10:17 to go. Lavender made it a 2-point game with a 5-foot bank shot with 5:35 to go, and Prahalis followed with a nifty drive and scoop shot to tie the score at 60 with 5:04 left.
Lavender followed that with two free throws to break the tie, and Iowa scored four straight points to retake a 64-62 lead with 2:34 left.
Then Lavender tied it with a putback at 1:18.
After an Iowa turnover, Ohio State went – where else? – inside to Lavender, who drew the foul and made the free throws to win it for a second straight year.
“I went into the defender extremely strong, so I knew it was going to be – I was going to finish or something had to happen,” Lavender said. “It was unbelievable for me, really.”