Opposing teams might be afraid of Ohio State’s combo of Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis, but it is actually the other players on the team they should be cowering from.
Lavender has been a mainstay at center for OSU for nearly three seasons. The addition of the sophomore guard Prahalis, who threw a coming-out party at Michigan State last Sunday, has made OSU a mountain too tall to climb for most opponents.
“[Lavender’s] sophomore year, I don’t think she played with someone with the ball-handling ability of Sammy [Prahalis],” head coach Jim Foster said. “Those two run the pick and roll like two savvy NBA veterans.”
Tonight’s opponent, Illinois, has already witnessed this power first-hand.
Although Lavender and Prahalis combined for 45 of OSU’s 76 points at Illinois on Dec. 28 and 52 of 65 at MSU, that is not the story of the whole season. In fact, the reason for their success lies in the hands of a few other role players on the team.
“[An important thing is] playing your role on the team. My role has changed since high school,” freshman guard Tayler Hill said. “It’s a team effort when you get to college.”
OSU’s main threat is the 3-point field goal, not the inside game of Lavender. OSU ranks eighth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage mostly because of two players, senior forward Sarah Schulze and junior guard Brittany Johnson.
Both starters are deadly from behind the arc. Schulze is 31 of 67 (46.3 percent) on the year and Johnson is 36 of 71 (50.7 percent).
Their presence on the floor forces opponents to play man-to-man defense, which gives Lavender the ability to dominate in the paint and Prahalis her chance to drive the lane.
“A team may initially double team, but because you can kick it out and [the other players on the floor are] knocking down shots it just makes me a better player because I get that one-on-one post opportunity,” said Lavender.
She had 31 points against Illinois on Dec. 28.
The third role player is also a familiar name to Big Ten fans, guard Shavelle Little, the reigning two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
When Little comes off the bench, she changes the game instantly with her ability to steal the ball and shut down opposing players.
The defensive specialist leads the Buckeyes in steals with 31 on the season, eight of which came against Illinois in their last meeting.
The last piece of the puzzle is no less important than the other three. Senior center Andrea Walker is having a phenomenal season off the bench.
Walker is Lavender’s replacement when she is off the floor and her 6-foot-5-inch partner in crime when both are on the floor, allowing them to steal control of the paint from any player.
They have already handled tough opponents this year. Illinois’ leading scorer, center Jenna Smith, was held to only 11 points against Lavender and Walker and MSU center Allyssa Dehaan was limited to only four rebounds, despite her 6-foot-9-inch frame.
“We prefer to play basketball and some teams like to wrestle, but the fact of the matter is we can pull up our sleeves and wrestle,” coach Foster said.
Even though Walker only plays an average of 13 minutes per game, she is still tied for the team lead in blocks with Lavender at 20, and she averages 4.4 rebounds per game, the same rate at which Lavender rebounds.
These four players along with the rest of the team make the dominance of Lavender and Prahalis possible by spreading the floor, creating turnovers, changing the pace of the game and allowing them to rest on the bench without losing control of the game.
“I think everybody is starting to really understand their roles and how you can help this team by playing in that role,” Lavender said. “Players are more accepting of the role they are playing in and it makes for a better team.”
OSU defeated Illinois 76-47 on the Illini’s home court in Champaign, Ill. last December. The perfect team chemistry of the Buckeyes was too much for Illinois once already this season and the Buckeyes are hoping to make that twice Thursday night.