Though it was the final home game for senior center Jantel Lavender, the biggest ovation of the afternoon might have been for Sarah Schulze.
The 80-47 win against Wisconsin on Sunday was the senior forward’s second appearance since Ohio State’s Jan. 16 matchup against Michigan State, when she tore a medial collateral ligament (MCL), meniscus and an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee.
At the time, some feared her season — and her career at OSU — might be over.
“They gave me the option to play,” Schulze said in the postgame press conference Sunday. “I can never get this back, so even though I’m not 100 percent now, I can still get in and bang a little. It’s totally worth it.”
Schulze and Lavender were honored before the game alongside senior teammates, guard Alison Jackson and guard Brittany Johnson. Lavender had to wipe away tears as she embraced her teammates.
For Schulze, her first home game since the injury was equally as emotional.
“I’m just happy I’m playing and just having a second chance to actually be on the court,” she said. “I was just soaking up today.”
After Schulze hit a three from the top of the key with 8:07 left in the first half, the Schottenstein Center crowd gave her an extended ovation. It was her only field goal of the game, and her only points since her injury.
Schulze committed three fouls and didn’t attempt a shot in the Buckeyes’ 76-74 victory at Purdue on Feb. 20.
She started in 17 games before the injury. In her absence, coach Jim Foster inserted freshman forward Ashley Adams, who has been a mainstay ever since.
“With the timing of Sarah’s injury, whether or not Ashley was ready, she was thrown in there,” Foster said in the postgame press conference Sunday. “How she’s progressed on the floor has been a big deal.”
Freshman forward Martina Ellerbe started in the first game Schulze missed, Jan. 20 at Illinois, but Adams has been in the starting lineup ever since.
Adams averaged 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game coming into Sunday’s game.
Schulze played 13 minutes Sunday after only playing four minutes at Purdue. She said her knee injury has caused her to become a more cerebral player.
“I’m not as explosive anymore, so I have to really play smarter,” she said. “Whenever I jump, I have to pay attention to how I land. It’s almost like I’m a step behind from where I used to be.”
OSU (19-9, 10-6 Big Ten) will travel to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis to play Iowa on Friday.