4:00 PM ET, March 1, 2009
Ohio State wins five straight to capture fifth straight Big Ten title
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Now that the Big Ten title is securely locked away, No. 14 Ohio State wants to prove something to its detractors.The Buckeyes' big two were too much for Penn State on Sunday, with Star Allen scoring a career-high 25 points in her final home game and Jantel Lavender adding 28 points and 12 rebounds in a 74-63 win.They had clinched at least a share of their fifth straight Big Ten title earlier in the week.The next step is to improve on an rocky postseason record that has seen them follow spectacular regular seasons with quick knockouts in the NCAA tournament."We're a better team than we've been for a while, a couple of years," coach Jim Foster said, referring to teams that were eliminated in huge first-round NCAA upsets each of the last two seasons. "Quite frankly, we're a little tired of all the naysayers. We knew what was wrong and we fixed it. We're a more intense, more focused basketball team."The Buckeyes (24-5, 15-3) were already the outright Big Ten champs even before tipoff, thanks to Purdue's 57-55 home loss to Michigan State. Yet they still took care of business. Ohio State, which fell a game off the lead with back-to-back losses in five days early in February, won its last five contests to capture a fifth straight league title by two full games."We're bordering on loosey-goosey sometimes," Foster said when asked about his team's makeup off the floor. "We're a young team with a lot of spirit and enthusiasm. They know how to have fun. And they're starting to focus in on understanding when it's business and it's time to work. That's a good thing."Samantha Prahalis added 11 points, five steals and five assists for Ohio State.Tyra Grant and Mashea Williams each scored 14 points and Julia Trogele had 10 for Penn State (11-17, 6-12), which has lost the last 10 meetings with the Buckeyes.Eighth-seeded Penn State meets ninth-seeded Illinois on Thursday night at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Ohio State gets a bye and could meet the Lions again on Friday.After the game, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney presented the championship trophy to Ohio State coach Jim Foster and his players, who then cut down the nets."I don't know if it's different," Lavender said of her second title in as many years. "It's something to look forward to every year and something that you have to live up to every year. The excitement is the same."The sophomore is a shoo-in to be the conference's player of the year for the second season in a row after running her double-figure scoring streak to 60 games in a row.Allen also had nine rebounds and four assists."Yes, I was a lot motivated," she said of playing her final game at Value City Arena. "I just had to keep playing how I was playing the past couple of games."Allen (17) and Lavender (14) combined for 31 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and two steals as the Buckeyes grabbed a 44-28 lead at the break."Oh, man, senior night? She was supposed to have an awful game. She's supposed to be so emotional," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of Allen. "But when she's active like that, she's a bear. When she's quick and athletic and she jumps and blocks shots, when she's playing at that level, the Lavender-Allen combo is just tough to stop."The duo had more points than the Nittany Lions until 4 minutes into the second half."When me and Star are both on, it's hard to guard us," Lavender said.Penn State, which had won its last two games, got as close as six points in the final 20 minutes, cutting what was once a 20-point deficit to 63-57 on Williams' free throw with 5:31 left.But the Buckeyes turned things around, Prahalis hitting two foul shots and then assisting on a lob pass to Lavender for a bucket to make it 68-59. Penn State never got closer than seven points again."We picked up our defense and we just needed to regroup overall and get back to how we were playing in the first half," said Prahalis, a freshman. "We needed to run a set play and calm down a little bit."The Buckeyes' only other senior, Ashlee Trebilcock, was asked how she liked her new Big Ten championship T-shirt."Very nice," she said with a wide smile. "Add it to the collection."
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