COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the second half of Thursday's 78-47 victory over Northwestern, Ohio State rediscovered an element it had been missing.
The Buckeyes (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) made up for lost time by shooting 62 percent from the field and outscoring the Wildcats 48-22 after halftime.
Samantha Prahalis had 14 assists on a variety of behind-the-back and over-the-head passes and Jantel Lavender scored 26 points and had 12 rebounds for the Buckeyes (27-4, 14-4), who may have lost their focus after clinching an unprecedented sixth straight Big Ten title on Feb. 14.
"I think we've been spending the last two weeks figuring out how we should act," coach Jim Foster said. "I've been doing this 32 years and I've never had the opportunity to clinch a championship with four games to go. We were just, 'How are we supposed to act?' I think we finally figured it out in the second half."
The Buckeyes got to cut down the nets and lead a group dance with the fans after the game. It was the first time they've been able to really let loose since they locked up the top seed in next week's Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
Asked what it was like when they blitzed the Wildcats (16-12, 7-10) with a 17-3 run to start the second half, Prahalis smiled.
"It's like a lot of fun. We were just flowing really well, everyone was hitting shots," she said after also adding 14 points. "It's just us playing together and getting back to the way we used to play. You know, having fun. I think we got away from having fun and we were a little stiff."
The 14 assists tied Prahalis' career best, set earlier this season against California.
"Prahalis, when she is given space, she's going to find people," Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. "And they've got people who can finish."
Ohio State was unbeaten at home, winning its first 18 games, before falling to Michigan State in overtime on Sunday. Prahalis came into that game having hit 47 consecutive free throws but missed 7-of-11 -- many of which could have clinched the game in regulation. She grimly said after the game that her play was unacceptable.
She made up for it as the Buckeyes raced away in the second half.
With the Buckeyes hanging on to a 30-25 lead at the break, Prahalis helped pick up the pace as they scored in transition, beat the Wildcats back on fastbreaks and stole passes in open court to set up easy baskets.
Ohio State made shots inside and out while piling up 17 of the first 20 points, with Prahalis scoring the final five. She also had four assists during the surge that put the Buckeyes in front 47-28.
"We did a terrible job of attacking them," McKeown said. "I can't explain the fact that we allowed them to just run up and down the floor in the second half after we did a great job of controlling the pace in the first half."
Lavender, who was 12-of-17 from the field, was the recipient of several of the Buckeyes' 25 assists.
Prahalis' most eye-popping helper came on a no-look, over-the-head fast-break pass for a basket by Andrea Walker that made it 51-33. Walker was one of four Buckeyes playing their final home game. The seniors have won 106 games, three off the school record.
"We really looked at ourselves at halftime and said, 'You know, it's senior night. But we have to get past all this emotion and just play extremely hard and don't let teams feel like they have a chance so early,'" Lavender said. "We wanted the seniors to go out with a bang so we just had to turn it up a couple of notches."
Amy Jaeschke had 22 points for Northwestern, which never led but did narrow an early 20-4 deficit to three points before the Buckeyes pulled away -- and found themselves.
"We started to guard better and that created the opportunity to get numbers," Foster said. "We made a couple of 3s and now we become very difficult to guard. We have Jantel inside, Sammy's ability to get to the basket and shoot mid-range and the wings being able to shoot the 3. There are a lot of dimensions that we brought into play today."