Second half burst moves Buckeyes past Wolverines, into third round of Big Ten Tournament
By Ben Axelrod
After picking up her second foul with seven minutes remaining in the first half, Ohio State guard Tayler Hill could only watch as her team struggled to separate itself from a Michigan team that was fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Hill more than made up for her temporary absence, scoring 16 of her 19 points in the second half, helping lead the No. 14 Buckeyes (25-5, 11-5) to a 57-48 over the Wolverines (20-11, 8-8) in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The junior from Minnesota scored 10 points over the course of a 14-4 OSU run that opened up the first six minutes of the second half.
“It's a good feeling. I think we got some stops and got key rebounds so that helped us transition, and I think they got us going for everybody,” Hill said of her scoring outburst. “In transition I think I got some looks too.”
Hill’s hot second half start was much-welcomed for the Buckeyes after a first half in which the All-Big Ten selection scored just three points on 1-of-4 shooting. As a team, OSU only made 31.3 percent of its shots in the first half, which was a big reason why the Buckeyes took just a 25-22 lead into halftime despite holding Michigan leading scorer Courtney Boylan to zero first half points.
“All of us would have liked to hit shots that we had taken in the first half or to start the second half,” Boylan said after the game. “Looking back, I'm upset with myself. I had opportunities that I didn't capitalize on that I think would have really helped our team.”
A Kalpana Beach fade-away shot capped an 11-0 OSU run to start the second half and a Samantha Prahalis step back jumper stretched the Buckeyes’ lead to 16 with just under 11 remaining minutes in the game.
The Wolverines, however, answered with a run of their own, scoring 10 consecutive points as a 3-point shot from Brenae Harris brought Michigan within six points with seven minutes remaining in the game.
“That was great. I love anytime our freshmen or people on the bench get a chance to come in and play, especially when they're successful,” Boylan said. “That was a huge, huge shot that Brenae hit, cutting it from nine to six. It was huge.
Lay-ups from Darryce Moore and Amber Stokes briefly brought the Buckeyes’ advantage back to double-digits, but 3-point shots from Boylan and forward Rachel Sheffer again brought the OSU lead down to six.
With the Buckeyes back on the ropes, it was Hill who again came to the rescue, scoring four of the Buckeyes final six points, including a pair of free throws with 24 seconds remaining to seal the game.
Hill finished the day having made seven of her 12 shot attempts. Of her seven field goals, one was on the receiving end of a Prahalis pass that broke the Big Ten’s career assists record.
“It's really cool, but it will mean a lot more after everything's done,” Prahalis said of breaking the record. “I'm just focused on the next game.”
The Big Ten’s reigning Player of the Year scored 11 points, pulled down eight rebounds, and dished out five assists, bringing the conference’s new all-time mark to 894.
With their victory on Friday, the Buckeyes snapped what was a three-game losing streak to the Wolverines- something that OSU coach Jim Foster said was insignificant considering what was at stake.
“When you get in these tournaments, you can't put too much emphasis on the game today, because the objective is to get to play tomorrow,” Foster said. “We know we lost to Michigan. I think you could tell by the attitude that we brought on the floor defensively that we weren't going to allow it to happen. And we scored enough points to take care of our business.”
Without a player on their roster who has ever lost in a Big Ten Tournament game, the Buckeyes now advance to Saturday’s third round game where they’ll meet the winner of Friday’s match-up between No. 24 Nebraska (22-7, 10-6) and Iowa (19-10, 11-5). Regardless of which opponent OSU faces, Prahalis said that the keys to reaching her fourth-consecutive Big Ten Title game won’t change.
“We need to keep our rebounding up. I gotta take care of the ball a little bit more and just keep moving it,” Prahalis said. “Just be us. We don't care who we get."