First Thoughts From a 96-84 Win Over the Illini
By Tony Gerdeman
Illinois (6-14, 0-7) came into this game with an 0-6 conference record, so they weren't expected to put up much of a fight against Ohio State (19-1, 6-1).
But expectations have a funny way of leading folks astray at times.
Illinois stayed within arm's reach for the entire game, even tying it at 76-76 late in the process. But the Buckeyes never blinked. They kept going straight ahead and playing their game. In the end, they were too much for the Illini.
It was an enjoyable game to watch. Head coach Jim Foster loves to run, and Illinois answered the challenge. The Buckeyes struggled on defense, allowing the Illini to keep pace.
Or perhaps it was all just a diabolical carrot being dangled in front of the Illini, and the rest of the Big Ten, in order to get them to play the pace of game that Foster would love to see more of.
First Thought - The sheer luxury of having guards who are always in control cannot be overstated.
Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill are essentially part of Foster's coaching staff. They keep everybody calm, but more than that, they produce in key situations to relieve any stress their teammates may be experiencing.
For example, when Illinois came all the way back from a twelve-point deficit to tie the game at 76-76 with 5:12 to play, Hill and Prahalis answered back with consecutive three-pointers in the span of 49 seconds.
Prahalis then took it a step farther, hitting a second three and followed it up with another deep two-pointer, making it 87-79 with 2:42 to play.
It sealed the game for the Buckeyes and sucked any remaining hope from Illinois.
Prahalis scored 28 points and Hill added 26. They finished 19-34 from the field and 6-10 from three-point territory.
Illinois had no answer for them. Few teams will.
Excessive Thought - When people talk about the Ohio State backcourt, talk must initially begin with Prahalis and Hill, but it shouldn't stop there.
Amber Stokes, the team's third starting guard, isn't just a complementary player any longer. She can get to the basket any time she wants, and exhibited that at will today against Illinois.
She scored 16 points on 5-10 shooting and 6-7 from the free throw line. It was the second-straight game in which she scored a career high in points.
Her first step gets her by the defender, and her second gets her in the paint. By that time, there usually isn't anybody else to worry about.
Foster had talked in the preseason about what defenses will be forced to give up when defending Prahalis and Hill, and one of the areas where he knew opponents would struggle was defending Stokes with their third-best defender.
But there really isn't anything opposing defenses can do, because the two best defenders have to stick with Hill and Prahalis. You can't leave either of those two with your third-best defender.
Stokes is coming into her own as a weapon, and Foster is intent upon keeping it that way.
Four Thought - For the third consecutive game, the Buckeyes had four players score in double figures, as Darryce Moore (10 points) joined Prahalis (28), Hill (26) and Stokes (16).
Despite having two players that everybody knows about, the number of different players that can score points on this team will always give defenses nightmares.
It's impossible enough to stop both Hill and Prahalis, and it's even more difficult to do that while stopping others from scoring as well.
Eventual Thought - We don't get to see it every game simply because of the players playing in front of her, but I love the potential of freshman guard Raven Ferguson.
She is strong, she can drive, she's a good shooter, and she has a terrific basketball sense. She is only scoring four points per game this season, but expect that number to climb by almost ten points next year.
Once Prahalis graduates following this season, Ferguson will slide into one of those three guard spots, and she will be able to produce consistently for 30-plus minutes.
Passing Thought - We got to see some high-low action from power forwards Darryce Moore and Kalpana Beach today. Generally they steal minutes from eachother, but today they played together and had their moments.
Moore is an improving passer and is a very smart player. Beach is a tremendous finisher. Together, they made a pretty solid team.
Additionally, center Ashley Adams can pass and finish, and is able to replace either player in this high-low post game.
We may see this explored more down the road, and it only makes this team more dangerous.
Final Thought - The Buckeyes finished the game on a 20-8 run after Illinois tied it at 76-76 with 5:12 to play. That means they scored 20 points in the final five minutes of the game. That's a 160-point per game pace. Kind of impressive, no?
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