The Ohio State women’s basketball team is in another funk — and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The Buckeyes (13-9, 4-6 Big Ten), unranked for the first time this season, are now in the midst of their second three-game skid after Sunday’s 74-68 loss to Northwestern (16-8, 5-6 Big Ten) at the Schottenstein Center.
Northwestern, which won its first game in Columbus since 1997, was led by senior center Amy Jaeschke. Besides scoring a game-high 29 points, Jaeschke helped the Wildcats launch a 19-2 run in the second half and overcome an eight-point deficit to win the game.
But Northwestern did not secure its victory until the final seconds.
There were no substantial offensive runs in the first half, and momentum swung back and forth as the Buckeyes took a narrow 34-32 lead into the break. Trying to avoid getting their ninth loss of the season, OSU coaches and players adopted an unusual strategy.
OSU coach Jim Foster engaged in a heated discussion with referees during the first media timeout with his team trailing, 11-10. Foster, who needed to be restrained by assistant coach Ed Baldwin, admitted he intended to spark his players with his animated behavior.
“I didn’t like some of the things I saw,” Foster said. “Nor did I like the laissez-faire attitude that I saw.”
Junior Samantha Prahalis was also a surprise factor in the rebounding category, pulling down 10 boards and scrapping for many more. The 5-foot-6 guard provided her typical accurate passing as well, dishing out a game-high 10 assists.
Senior center Jantel Lavender, who finished the game with 16 points and 10 boards, said Prahalis’ rebounding demonstrated the team’s focus on avoiding more conference losses.
“I think (Prahalis’) rebounding effort is amazing,” Lavender said. “She tried to do everything she could.”
A layup from freshman center Ashley Adams gave the Buckeyes a 52-44 lead with 13:05 remaining. The Wildcats then “imposed their will” on OSU, Foster said, in the form of a 19-2 run that resulted in a 63-54 lead with just more than three minutes to play.
Then Jaeschke took over.
Northwestern’s prolific center clinched the victory with a lucky bounce on her 3-point attempt. Jaeschke then completed a three-point play on Northwestern’s next possession to extend the lead to 69-55.
Prahalis, sophomore guard Tayler Hill and redshirt freshman guard Brianna Sanders pulled OSU close, at 70-65 with under a minute to play after each hit a 3-pointer.
Time ran short on the Buckeyes as they struggled to foul senior Wildcat guard Beth Marshall with under 20 seconds remaining. Marshall hit four free throws in the final 11 seconds to seal the win for Northwestern.
All the praise from Northwestern coach Joe McKeown went to Jaeschke after the game.
“I wish I had her for another year,” McKeown said. “She just went crazy at the end of the game. That’s why she’s such a special player.”
After the game, Jaeschke cited the season sweep of OSU as evidence of the Northwestern program’s growth.
“I think we’ve grown a lot as a team,” Jaeschke said. “It feels great; it’s really nice to see how far our program has come. (Ohio State) is a hard team to beat.”
Foster spoke about the mental makeup of his team after the game.
“We’re not a team that handles adversity,” Foster said. “We need to get a mentality of stopping the other team and facing adversity.”
The Buckeyes return to action when they tipoff against Purdue at 6 p.m. Thursday at Nationwide Arena.