Mitch Andrews / Lantern photographer
After winning the top individual honor in the Big Ten in her first three seasons at Ohio State, senior center Jantel Lavender is in the running to become the first women’s basketball player ever to win four Big Ten Player of the Year awards.
Averaging a Big Ten-high 22.7 points and 10.8 rebounds, the Cleveland native is having the best statistical year of her career. However, she is having a down year in the most important category: wins.
After Lavender led the team to 31 wins and a Big Ten title a season ago, this year’s Buckeyes only have 17 wins through Sunday, with two regular season games left, followed by the Big Ten Tournament. It will be up to conference officials to decide whether her numbers will be enough.
Although Lavender’s individual accomplishments are unprecedented in both the conference’s and school’s history, coach Jim Foster maintains his focus on improving his team for the NCAA Tournament.
“Do I think she’s a terrific player?” Foster said. “Yes.”
It’s typical for coaches to take the high road regarding individual honors before the season is over, but Foster has his players doing the same.
“We still have a lot to play for,” Lavender said. “We have to … win these next few games so we can get a higher bid in the (Big Ten) Tournament, so we don’t have to play four games in a row.
“The team really recognizes the sense of urgency we have to have over these next few games.”
That sense of urgency is warranted because the Buckeyes (17-9, 8-6 Big Ten) are in sixth place and need a strong finish in the regular season and Big Ten Tournament to warrant a selection to the NCAA Tournament.
“She’s not going to quit just because they lost a few games,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said after her team’s loss to OSU last Thursday. “I think Lavender has been a tremendous player in the conference. … She certainly is one of the best players in this conference, ever since she stepped on this campus.”
Lavender was the first freshman ever to receive the Big Ten Player of the Year award and became OSU’s career scoring leader after a Feb. 13 win at Minnesota (11-16, 3-11). She is the Big Ten’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,333 and leads the conference in minutes per game with 37.1.