Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lavender Smooth: Jantel's Big Night Helps OSU Down Spartans

Ohio State center Jantel Lavender admits she likes playing in Conseco Fieldhouse.

The home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers became her stage Saturday as the Buckeyes senior poured in 37-points and nine-rebound to help her team advance to the women’s Big Ten tournament final against Penn State.

“My teammates saw me in a good position and I just took my time and made my shot,” she said.

She made almost all her shots. Lavender finished the night 15-of-2o from the field and seven-of-seven from the free throw line.

After the Buckeyes went down by eight early, Lavender put the team on her back, carrying Ohio State to a ten point lead by halftime.

She scored 21-points in the opening period.

“I thought Jantel Lavender was just amazing,” said Spartans head coach Suzy Merchant. “I thought it was the best I’ve seen her play all year.”

In the second half, the Spartans came roaring back and tied the game with eight-and-a-half minutes to play. Lavender then went back to work. She scored 10 points during a 13-0 Buckeyes run which helped them pull away for good.

“She is one of the best players in the world in women’s college basketball,” said sophomore Tayler Hill. “Having her presence down there takes so much off everybody else and she is just a big presence on the game offensively and defensively. She is just a great player.”

Lavender’s performance was even more impressive because she did it against the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, Lykendra Johnson.

“It was an all out war,” said Johnson. “I was trying to do any and everything I could to just stop her.”

The Buckeyes entered the Big Ten tournament in an unfamiliar position. Ohio State is used to being one of the conference’s top seeds, but instead came in the middle of the pack as the five seed.

Lavender said they took their struggles in the regular season and used them to fuel their recent hot streak.

The Buckeyes have won eight in a row, including their tournament wins over Iowa and 11th-ranked Michigan State. It was the third win of the year over the Spartans.

“This game, we tried to take that approach, of just be within the game, have fun with it, play great defense and execute on offense.”

Lavender did all of those things. If she does it again Sunday against Penn State, she will be leaving one of her favorite arenas with a keepsake beyond just solid numbers, the Big Ten tournament trophy.

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