March 21, 2009

Sacred Heart Falls to Ohio State in First Round of NCAA Tournament

March 21, 2009

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Samantha Prahalis took care of the perimeter with a career-best 23 points, and Jantel Lavender did the same inside with 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead Ohio State past Sacred Heart, 77-63 Saturday in an NCAA first-round game.

Third-seeded Ohio State (28-5) advanced to Monday night's second-round against 11th-seeded Mississippi State (23-9), a 71-63 winner over Texas in the day's first game.

Ashlee Trebilcock had 13 points and Maria Moeller added a career-high 12 for the Buckeyes, the regular-season and tournament champions of the Big Ten. The win was their ninth in a row.

Freshman Callan Taylor scored a career-high 24 points for Sacred Heart (25-8), champions of the Northeast Conference. Alisha Apo added 14 points.

The Pioneers trailed just 46-44 with 12:50 left, but foul trouble and the Buckeyes' transition game helped Ohio State pull away.

Ohio State, playing before a hometown crowd, hit 21 of- 29 free throws to just three of six for Sacred Heart.

The loss ended Sacred Heart's 21-game winning streak - and one of the more amazing stories in the tournament. The Pioneers opened the season 0-5 before going on the second-longest tear in the country, trailing only No. 1 and unbeaten in-state rival Connecticut (33-0) - which lies just 70 miles away from Sacred Heart's campus in Fairfield.

Ohio State led by as many as 14 before taking a 42-30 halftime lead, but the Pioneers wouldn't wilt. Lindsey Gibson's shot capped a 7-0 run to start the second half, and Sacred Heart drew as close as 46-44 on Kaitlin Sowinski's short jumper over Lavender with 12:50 left.

But foul trouble plagued the Pioneers.

Sowinski, their top inside player and second-leading scorer at 16 points a game, picked up her fourth foul midway through the second half and was limited in stopping the 6-foot-4 Lavender, the Big Ten's leading scorer, rebounder and player of the year the last two seasons.

Trebilcock gave the Buckeyes some breathing room with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 49-44. Moeller then followed with one of her career-best four 3-pointers, and Ohio State began to pull away.

During one span in the final minutes, Prahalis assisted on three consecutive baskets in less than a minute, all three coming in full flight down the court. The third was a no-look pass to Trebilcock for an easy layup in transtion.

Sowinski was limited to nine points in 28 minutes.

With the game tied at 11, Ohio State took the lead for good with an 11-2 run. Trebilcock, a senior whose playing time has diminished during the season, hit a perimeter jumper to open the streak. Prahalis orchestrated everything, hurrying the ball down the floor, slashing through the lane for a bucket and feeding Alison Jackson for two baskets.

She had 14 points in the first half to go with two assists. Lavender added 11 points, five rebounds and two assists as well.

Even though the game was played only a little over three miles from Ohio State's own arena, the game was played on the Buckeyes' home court. It was trucked in to serve as the surface for the NCAA games.

A high percentage of the 5,249 fans at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, rooted for Ohio State. But the Pioneers made their presence felt, particularly in voicing displeasure at a 12-3 foul differential against their team in the opening half.