Buckeyes Rule Big Ten - Again

Three was nice but four was more for the Ohio State women's basketball team, which beat Northwestern on Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena in Columbus. The 74-50 victory clinched a fourth consecutive Big Ten championship for the 18th-ranked Buckeyes, adding an 11th title to a total that was already the most in conference history.

Though they will have to share this one, unlike the last two, the three seniors who finished their career four-for-four in Big Ten titles saw no luster lost from the achievement.

"No, we can't really worry about that," senior guard Marscilla Packer said after hearing that Iowa beat Wisconsin to earn a share of the conference title as well. "We're enjoying this."

Packer led all scorers with 21 points. She made 9 of 18 shots from the field, including just 1 of 5 from three-point range but a variety of made shots from all over the floor. She also dished out four assists and had four steals in her final game at Value City Arena.

The Buckeyes' other senior starter, Tamarah Riley, also scored in double figures with 11 points and she grabbed six rebounds, including five on the offensive end.

Ohio State's third senior, forward Alice Jamen, saw playing time as well – a rarity as she has had knee problems that have limited her all season – and snagged three rebounds in six minutes.

"It has been a very special four years for me," Jamen said. "I'm really proud of what we accomplished and built."

When the three began their careers, it was at a school that once was a dominant force in the Big Ten but that had suffered through a prolonged period of mediocrity.

"I just feel really proud," Riley said. "I feel like we represented the university well. Hopefully the juniors and sophomores and freshmen will continue that on and we'll continue to be a powerhouse."

The trio exited the floor together to a standing ovation from the crowd of 6,250 with 1:35 left on the clock, but the school-record 109th victory of their careers had long been decided.

At the five-minute mark, the Buckeyes (22-7, 13-5) clung to a one-point lead – 21-20 – and had yet to lead by more than four, but they closed the half with a 14-2 flourish that gave them control of the contest that they never relinquished.

Andrea Walker scored on a layup after a nice set-up pass from Maria Moeller, a basket that ignited a 12-0 run.

Packer followed with a 17-foot jumper from just beyond the foul line then fed Lavender for a layup.

Riley kept the streak going with an old-fashioned three-point play, then Moeller found the range from alone on the right win for a three-pointer.

Erin Dickerson finally stopped the bleeding with a jumper, but Packer closed the half with a runner from the baseline to the left of the hoop.

That left the Buckeyes ahead 35-22 at the break.

They scored the first four points in the second half to open up a 17-point lead, and the closest the Wildcats (5-25, 1-17) would get from that point on was 14.

Ohio State would go on to lead by as many as 26 while clinching the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which begins Thursday at Conseco Fieldhosue in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes will play their opening game Friday night.

Aside from the play of the seniors, Ohio State head coach Jim Foster's club got its usual strong contribution from freshman center Jantel Lavender, who scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Those totals represented her 12th double-double of the year, and the frosh scored in double figures in every game of the regular season.

Also providing a lift in the first half was Moeller, a sophomore who helped relieve ailing starting point guard and classmate Shavelle Little. Moeller hit all three of her first-half shots – including two treys – and finished with eight points. She also had two assists in 28 minutes.

Little, who wore a brace on her left knee, played 12 minutes and scored two points with two assists and two steals.

Foster, who led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title for the fourth time in his six years in Columbus, said none were harder than this one, when the Buckeyes had to cope with, at various times, injuries to starting guard Ashlee Trebilcock, Little and backup center Andrea Walker plus losing All-Big Ten forward Star Allen to academic problems for the last 17 games of the regular season.

"We figured out how to do a lot of things with the parts that were available and didn't spend a lot of time dwelling on the parts that weren't available," Foster said.

They also faced a better Big Ten. Entering the final day of the conference season, three games separated the top eight teams in the standings. The five conference losses for both Iowa and Ohio State mark the most ever for a Big Ten champion.

"I think this was the most difficult because the league was very competitive, deeper than maybe ever," Foster said.

Two Wildcats scored in double-figures: freshman center Amy Jaeschke (14 points) and senior guard Nadia Bibbs (12).

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim Foster and what he's done for the Ohio State Buckeyes," Northwestern coach Beth Combs said. "If you're going to come on somebody's home court and get beat the way we did, the best thing I can say is I'm glad it was to him."

She said her team just did not have an answer when the Buckeyes went on their late-first-half run.

"I thought we played pretty decent defense when they had their run," she said. "We had some hands in their faces and they just made shots."

Ohio State closed out the conference season 9-0 at home.

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