Samantha Prahalis leads OSU past Illinois, 72-61

COLUMBUS (AP) — With Illinois sandwiching players around Jantel Lavender every time she touched the ball, No. 5 Ohio State had to find another way to score.

The Buckeyes’ guards were up to the task.

Samantha Prahalis scored 24 points and Maria Moeller came off the bench to hit two critical 3-pointers, pushing the Buckeyes past Illinois 72-61 on Thursday night.

The teams had met just 21‚Ñ2 weeks earlier with Ohio State rolling over the homestanding Illini 76-47 as the 6-foot-4 Lavender, already a two-time Big Ten player of the year, powered her way to 31 points.

“The first game we tried to play one-on-one coverage on Jantel — and she’s All-American,” said Illinois coach Jolette Law. “We tried to double up a little bit more [Thursday], tried to make her think a little bit more. We wanted other people to beat us.”

And they did. The Illini held Lavender, averaging 22 points, to just 12 on 3-of-8 shooting from the field. But the rest of the Buckeyes (18-1, 6-0 Big Ten) hit 9 of 18 3-point attempts and almost 50 percent from the field overall.

“They were packing the lane in,” Lavender said. “I saw early opportunities for the guards and the wings to shoot 3-point shots. I saw the double-teams coming early and I was just trying to kick it back out.”

Prahalis, the reigning player of the week in the Big Ten, hit 9 of 14 shots from the field, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc, and added five assists and five steals.

“Right now I feel good when I shoot,” she said. “It’s just going in.”

Moeller is a senior who lost her starting job when the highly recruited, high-energy Prahalis came to campus. She was perfect on both of her 3-point attempts and also both free throws, plus had two assists and two rebounds in 15 minutes.

“I saw my opportunity today,” she said. “I thought I would take advantage of it.”

Coach Jim Foster said he expected Moeller to do as much.

“She’s done it for four years,” he said. “I don’t know why people are always surprised when she does it. ... We’re not surprised.”

Karisma Penn scored 21 points, Whitney Toone 12 and Lydia McCully 10 for the Illini (11-5, 3-3).

The Illini’s Jenna Smith, 12th in the nation in scoring and 10th in rebounds, played with a strained left hamstring. She finished with five points and seven rebounds.

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