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Prahalis leads No. 5 Ohio State past Illinois

Jan 15, 2010 - 2:55 AM By RUSTY MILLER AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio(AP) -- With Illinois sandwiching players around Jantel Lavender every time she touched the ball, No. 5 Ohio State had to find another way to score.

The Buckeyes' guards were up to the task.

Samantha Prahalis scored 24 points and Maria Moeller came off the bench to hit two critical 3-pointers, pushing the Buckeyes past Illinois 72-61 on Thursday night.

The teams had met just 2 1/2 weeks earlier with Ohio State rolling over the homestanding Illini 76-47 as the 6-foot-4 Lavender, already a two-time Big Ten player of the year, powered her way to 31 points.

"The first game we tried to play one-on-one coverage on Jantel - and she's All-American," said Illinois coach Jolette Law. "We tried to double up a little bit more (tonight), tried to make her think a little bit more. We wanted other people to beat us."

And they did. The Illini held Lavender, averaging 22 points, to just 12 on 3-of-8 shooting from the field. But the rest of the Buckeyes (18-1, 6-0 Big Ten) hit 9 of 18 3-point attempts and almost 50 percent from the field overall.

"They were packing the lane in," Lavender said. "I saw early opportunities for the guards and the wings to shoot 3-point shots. I saw the double-teams coming early and I was just trying to kick it back out."

Prahalis, the reigning player of the week in the Big Ten, hit 9 of 14 shots from the field, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc, and added five assists and five steals.

"Right now I feel good when I shoot," she said. "It's just going in."

Moeller is a senior who lost her starting job when the highly recruited, high-energy Prahalis came to campus. She was perfect on both of her 3-point attempts and also both free throws, plus had two assists and two rebounds in 15 minutes.

"I saw my opportunity today," she said. "I thought I would take advantage of it."

Coach Jim Foster said he expected Moeller as much.

"She's done it for four years," he said. "I don't know why people are always surprised when she does it. ... We're not surprised."

Karisma Penn scored 21 points, Whitney Toone 12 and Lydia McCully 10 for the Illini (11-5, 3-3).

The Illini's Jenna Smith, 12th in the nation in scoring at 20.5 points a game and 10th in rebounds with 11.4, played with a strained left hamstring. She finished with five points and seven rebounds.

Illinois trailed by 17 points in the first half but got as close as three on two occasions in the second half and never buckled. The Illini scored 12 of the first 15 points after the break to cut their deficit to 40-37 with 16 minutes left.

With the Buckeyes leading 42-39, Tayler Hill hit a foul shot, Prahalis made a fast-break pull-up from 12 feet, and Lavender banked in a fallaway while being fouled, converting the three-point play to make it 48-39.

After Illinois regrouped to cut the lead to 50-44 on McCully's 3-pointer from the left corner, Moeller came in to make 3-pointers on the Buckeyes' next two possessions to push the lead back to 56-44.

"Moeller knocked down some big shots in the second half," Law said.

Toone scored eight of Illinois' 11 points over one span, her 10-foot jumper with 3:55 left keeping her team within reach at 63-57.

But then Prahalis hit a 3-pointer with 2 minutes left to make it 70-59 and give the Buckeyes their 10th win in a row.

"We had to shoot more from the perimeter and we did a very good job of it," Foster said. "Then at the end, when it loosened up a little bit inside, we're pounding the ball inside and getting some good results."