East Lansing, MI – Ohio State has a very potent inside-outside combination with center Jantel Lavender and point guard Samantha Prahalis.
It's a one-two punch that keeps the No. 6 Buckeyes as the team to beat in the Big Ten after Saturday's 65-62 victory at Michigan State (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP).
Prahalis scored 32 points while Lavender had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Buckeyes (17-1, 5-0), who are seeking a record sixth straight Big Ten regular season crown. Both Ohio State stars made clutch plays late to keep the Buckeyes alone in first place in the early conference race.
Four players scored in double figures for Michigan State (11-5, 2-3), led by Aisha Jefferson and Lykendra Johnson with 13 points each. Johnson added 12 rebounds.
Michigan State missed two shots in the final seconds in a desperate attempt to tie the game. The Spartans had led by as many as 11 points in the first half.
"It was a hard-fought game," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "I thought it could have gone either way."
Ohio State was the Big Ten preseason favorite among coaches and the media to win the crown again in 2009-10, while Michigan State was picked to finish second.
The Spartans have been good outside the Big Ten but already had stumbled twice in conference play, losing at home against Indiana and on the road at Wisconsin. The loss to the Buckeyes leaves Michigan State in an even deeper hole.
Michigan State took a 33-22 first-half lead, energized by a home crowd of 12,412 -- third largest in school history. But Ohio State crawled back behind Prahalis and Lavender.
Prahalis made 10-of-20 shots from the floor, hitting 3s from the outside if she was open but also driving if she saw a gap in the Michigan State defense.
"If I saw an opening, I just went to the basket," Prahalis said.
Lavender outmuscled Michigan State's Allyssa DeHaan and other Spartans down low.
Michigan State led 35-31 at the half. Sarah Schulze and Prahalis hit 3-pointers to open the second half and give Ohio State a 37-35 lead. The Buckeyes led by as many as five points midway through the second half but Michigan State was able to regain the lead.
Prahalis tied the game at 61 on with two free throws with 1:42 minutes left. Two more Prahalis foul shots gave the Buckeyes a 63-61 lead with 1:14 left.
Michigan State's Johnson cut the lead to 63-62 with a free throw. But Lavender answered with two foul shots with 35 seconds left to put the Buckeyes ahead 65-62.
DeHaan, who finished with 12 points, missed a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. Brittney Thomas got the rebound and was able to get off a partially blocked shot as time ran down, but she wasn't in 3-point territory.