Star Allen, a senior who prepped at nearby Independence High School, secured an offensive rebound and made a pair of free throws for the final points in her last game in her hometown, and the Buckeyes celebrated on the court amid the cheers of 4,842 fans at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
That carom, her 10th of the game, gave Allen a double-double and assured her class would not finish without a trip to the Sweet 16, a place the Buckeyes had not been since 2005.
It also served as a fitting conclusion to a game in which every loose ball was contested and every possession was important.
"They got the job done on the little things down the stretch," said Mississippi State head coach Sharon Fanning after her team finished 23-10. "I do think probably the bottom line is unforced turnovers and a couple of blockouts and that changed the four-point lead into where we didn't score the rest of the game."
Fellow starter Samantha Prahalis added eight points and four assists and five boards while Brittany Johnson pitched in nine points. Off the bench, Sarah Schulze and Andrea Walker came up large as well, Schulze scored six points and helped keep plays alive with her hustle while Walker grabbed seven rebounds.
One of Walker's two blocks represented the first of 11 consecutive defensive stops Ohio State made to close out the game.
At the other end, Maria Moeller – another contributor off Ohio State head coach Jim Foster's bench – drove to the lane and drew a foul. She made both free throws then matched up defensively with Bulldog point guard Alexis Rack, helping cut her off and force her into the path of Schulze, who stole the ball then raced to the other end and drew a foul on a layup attempt.
Schulze made one of two free throws to cut the lead to one, and Prahalis tied the score moments later when she also split a pair of free throws.
Finally, the Buckeyes went ahead with a pair of freebies from Lavender, the Big Ten player of the year, with 2:56 to go.
Their defense did the rest, and Prahalis and Lavender jumped into each other's arms afterward.
"I was just really excited because Jantel's such a big part of this team, she's so good," Prahalis said. "I was just excited to win the game with her and with the whole team because we want to really go far and we don't want the season to end because we like each other a lot."
Lavender echoed the same feeling.
"We were excited – ecstatic – because we got past these first two rounds and we know we earned them throughout the year and we played extremely hard tonight," Lavender said. "I think there was just a feeling of, not satisfaction, but just a feeling of excitement, you know? To just get back past these first two rounds and focus on the next two games."
Then there was Allen, who has played on four Big Ten championship teams but never in the Sweet 16.
The top-seeded Buckeyes were upset in round two by Boston College in 2006 then bowed out in round one each of the past two seasons.
Lost amid the joy of getting past the first-round hump with the 77-63 win over Sacred Heart on Saturday was a subpar performance by Allen.
She returned to her role as a key cog against the Bulldogs, admitting her energy level was up in the second game.
"Coach kept telling me he needs my energy, so I just thought me having a little extra fire in my belly, I'd be good," said Allen, who scored 12 points.
Foster must have been happy with what he got from Allen, but he was not in the mood to do backflips about getting into the third round of the tournament for the second time in his seven seasons as head coach at Ohio State.
"It just gives people things to talk about, you know, during a recession, tough economic times," he said. "When people have things to talk about, they can keep their mind off of what the reality is. That's a great thing. That's why we play sports. That's what sports is. Everybody has opinions, and I knew I had a good basketball team this year.
"I said from the beginning this team would be different."
Next the Buckeyes head west to Berkeley, Calif., where they will face No. 2 seed Stanford, the national runner-up last season, on Saturday night. The Cardinal whipped No. 10 San Diego State 77-49 on Monday night in San Diego.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer held the same position at Ohio State from 1980-81 through 1984-85 before leaving for Palo Alto.