COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) looked nothing like a highly-ranked team for about 6 minutes against Alabama A&M. The Buckeyes found themselves trailing by 12 points and wondering what was with this pesky team from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Samantha Prahalis and Jantel Lavender finally went to work, and the Buckeyes pulled away in the second half for a 78-54 victory on Saturday night that was much closer than the final score.
Prahalis finished with 16 points and 12 assists, and Lavender had 23 points and 11 rebounds as Ohio State (12-1) won its fourth straight. But it certainly wasn't easy after the Bulldogs (4-4) scored the first nine points in building a 14-2 lead.
Lavender finally made the Buckeyes' first field goal with 15:07 left in the first half.
"They got off to a very good start," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. "We started the game shooting jump shots. That's not the way to start the game. They were open looks but we have a pretty good presence down low and we've got some pretty good tools.
"We're real good when we play inside-out."
Lavender's 22.5 points a game is fifth in the NCAA and Prahalis is averaging nine assists, second nationally, and once they got on track the Buckeyes were on their way to ending the Bulldogs' modest three-game winning streak.
"We got off to a slow start, not a lot of energy and little mistakes we shouldn't have been making," Prahalis said. "I knew once we picked it up we'd be all right."
Andrea Walker came off the bench to score 12 points and Tayler Hill had 11 for the Buckeyes (12-1). Whiquitta Tobar led the Bulldogs with 14 points and Katrich Williams added 12.
Dominisha Johnson had eight of her 10 points in the game in the opening 4 minutes for A&M before the Buckeyes rallied behind Prahalis. Her pass to Lavender cut the deficit to 14-13 and, after Gabrielle Williams regained a three-point lead for Alabama A&M, Prahalis assisted on a basket by Hill and followed with a layup for the Buckeyes' first lead with 10:36 left.
Prahalis then fed Lavender for a layup and a 19-16 advantage.
"We were taking quick shots, not getting defensive stops," Lavender said. "We slowly chipped away at the lead by playing defense and switching some things up on them."
Ohio State led 34-29 at halftime, but Prahalis contributed half of her points and assists in the second 20 minutes before exiting with 4 1/2 minutes left.
The Bulldogs were within 38-34 until Lavender's basket from a Prahalis feed with 17:10 to play started a 16-6 run.
"Overall, I thought our team had a great game for 30 minutes," Bulldogs coach Altherias Warmley said. "When playing on the road against a great team like this, you can't give them easy baskets and we did that in the second half. They showed how good they were in the last ten minutes of the game."