March 24, 2010 9:59:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
PITTSBURGH -- The Ohio State women''s basketball players didn''t know what hit them.
On paper, the second-seeded Lady Buckeyes had all of the statistical advantages entering their game Tuesday night against seventh-seeded Mississippi State in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Petersen Events Center.
But Ohio State''s accuracy from 3-point range (nation-best 39.5 percent), the dominance of three-time Big Ten Conference Player of the Year Jantel Lavender, and the steadiness of sophomore point guard Samantha Prahalis were lost in a wave of MSU momentum.
The result was a stunningly easy 87-67 victory for MSU (21-12), which catapulted it to the first Sweet 16 in the program''s history. The 87 points were the most allowed by Ohio State (31-5) this season, and translated into its worst loss in the NCAA tournament since a 97-65 defeat to Tennessee on March 18, 1996.
"I think we just basically got outworked on the defensive end," Lavender said. "Mississippi State was more aggressive. They went to the glass a little bit harder, they wanted to score, they wanted to make it to the next round, and they played like that."
Lavender, a 6-foot-4 junior, battled a defense that used 6-5 senior center Chanel Mokango in front of her and a guard behind her to protect the weak side. Lavender had 17 points and eight rebounds, but she wasn''t allowed to be a dominating presence.
Prahalis, who set an Ohio State record with 13 assists in the Lady Buckeyes'' 93-59 victory against St. Francis (Pa.) on Sunday in the first round, also wasn''t allowed to control the game. While Prahalis had success at times pushing the tempo, her 10 turnovers outshined her 14-point, six-assist effort. She also was whistled for a technical foul with a little more than four minutes remaining in the game that fouled her out.
Prahalis was issued the technical foul following an Ohio State turnover in the half-court set and after she thought she was hit and a foul on MSU wasn''t called.
"I think she was hit and the referee didn''t see it," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. "I think she felt on several occasions she had been hit and it just got really frustrating."
That wasn''t the only part of the evening that was frustrating for Ohio State. MSU had 14 steals, forced 24 turnovers, and had a 39-7 edge in points off turnovers. Those aren''t numbers a team like Ohio State, which has been ranked in the top 10 nationally all season, sees very often, if at all.
"We just kind of stopped playing halfway through the first half and we just let them do whatever they wanted on offense," junior forward Sarah Schulze said. "It was like we had no heart on defense."
Said Lavender, "I just think we weren''t taking care of the ball. We were lazy with passes, Mississippi State was in passing lanes, and I think they were really aggressive on defense and they really got after it."
Ohio State also didn''t do what it wanted to do against Alexis Rack, who led MSU with 30 points. The senior guard was 10 of 18 from the field (6 of 12 from 3-point range) and delivered daggers whenever the Lady Bulldogs needed. With a little more than 14 minutes remaining in the game, Rack worked the ball at the top of the key to the left of a screen and back to the right and banked in a 3-pointer.
Later in the half, Rack answered a 3-pointer by Brittany Johnson that cut MSU''s lead to 63-54 by rising up in Prahalis'' face and draining a trey.
"I think we had a great scouting report on Alexis Rack," Lavender said. "I don''t know why we so far off her shooting wise. We knew she could shoot the deep three, we knew she could penetrate well and find players, but we just didn''t come hard enough to defend her. She had a great game. She capitalized on us not getting up into screens, us not being aggressive on her coming off screens."
Said Schulze, "We just didn''t play like us. We let them just kind of control how we were playing and it was like we were scared of them whenever we were on offense."
MSU welcomed the result, especially after losing to Ohio State 64-58 last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Lady Bulldogs led 58-54 with 6 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.
"We were excited about the opportunity to get to play them again after last year," junior guard Mary Kathryn Govero said. "We didn''t finish like we wanted to, and today we believed in ourselves from the beginning. We believed in our coaches and in each other. ... We hope to keep this going into the next game."
MSU will play third-seeded Florida State (28-5) at 1:32 p.m. Sunday in the Sweet 16 in Dayton, Ohio.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.