The Ohio State women’s basketball team opened its season this weekend with wins over Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green in the Preseason National Invitational Tournament.
The No. 3 Buckeyes used the first half of both games to assert big leads and put the games away early.
Led by junior center Jantel Lavender, OSU pushed a game that was tied at eight to a score of 27-8 with a 19-0 run.
Missed shots and tough defense by OSU held the Eastern Illinois Panthers without a point for more than seven minutes. The Buckeyes pushed a 10-point lead at the half back into the 20s and won 91-68.
Against Bowling Green, the Buckeyes used a three-headed attack in the first half to post a 27-point lead at the half. Lavender’s 18 points, along with freshman guard Tayler Hill’s 13 and sophomore guard Samantha Prahalis’ 12, left the Falcons in an insurmountable hole.
OSU controlled the second half, with junior forward Sarah Shultze also scoring in double digits for the game with 15. OSU won, 91-72.
Lavender recorded her 38th and 39th career double-doubles, finishing with 24 and 23 points in the contests. The Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year stressed that these first games gave OSU more things to improve.
“We learned what we needed to work on. We did a lot of good things, but as a team, we still have things to work on,” Lavender said.
She also gave credit to both teams, and said despite the lopsided outcomes, both played physical and should have successful seasons.
Shultze posted 18 points in her first start on Friday, primarily in the second half. Her second-half play in both outings showed that the new starter is ready to contribute. Big games by players not named Lavender will only benefit OSU going forward.
Prahalis was Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. She started slow on Friday against Eastern Illinois but had a better day on Sunday against Bowling Green with 16 points and eight assists. Becoming more comfortable in her second year will make the Buckeye offense hard to stop.
“I think I know where my teammates are on the floor better, and I know where they’re going to be,” Prahalis said about her progression. “I know where the shooters are going to be if I am driving on the wing, and I know where to put the ball to Jantel better. I just have a better feel of where to put the ball.”
Coach Jim Foster expressed satisfaction in the fact that the Buckeyes were playing some winning programs early. Eastern Illinois was 24-9 last season, and Bowling Green has won its conference championship the last five seasons.
“The difference between a lot of opening games and being in a tournament like the NIT is that you’re going to play better teams because they go out and try to get the best team they can get from a conference,” Foster said. “So from that point of view, we played a team who is used to winning, a team who is used to playing 40 minutes.”
OSU will play the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Tuesday.