No. 10 Ohio St. 96, Illinois 84
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)
With the game teetering on the brink, the Big Ten's dynamic duo took over for Ohio State.
Tayler Hill hit the go-ahead 3-pointer and Samantha Prahalis scored eight straight Buckeyes points in the waning moments to lead 10th-ranked Ohio State past pesky Illinois 96-84 on Sunday.
''Big-time players made big-time shots,'' Illini coach Jolette Law said. ''Down the stretch, Sammy put this team on her back and she made some big plays.''
Prahalis finished with 28 points, Hill added 26 and Amber Stokes 16 for the Buckeyes (19-1, 6-1 Big Ten), who have won four in a row since their lone loss.
Time and again, their big two have taken over a game that could easily have gone the other way.
''I feel like when it gets a little close, our leadership does come up,'' said Prahalis, the Buckeyes' only senior. ''It's almost like an unsaid thing.''
Hill hit a 3 from the right wing with 4:57 left to end an 8-0 Illinois run. Ashley Adams' kickout pass to Hill led to the Buckeyes taking the lead for good.
Prahalis then took over, hitting a 3 and then, after an Illinois free throw, making another 3 from up top and adding a jumper from the perimeter to push the lead to 87-77.
Stokes helped preserve the win with five free throws, including four in the final minute.
Prahalis has been on Ohio State teams that have won two Big Ten titles and played in three NCAA tournaments. Hill was an integral part a year ago to a team that regrouped from a rough patch in the middle of the season to survive until the NCAA regional semifinals loss to Tennessee.
''This year it's like it's different because there's a calm,'' Prahalis said of the veterans' cool play under fire. ''It's not like we're pressing. It's just like, `All right, let's just calm down and be us.'''
As evidence, the Buckeyes hit 70 percent of their shots from the field in the second half (16 of 23). Prahalis had five rebounds and six assists while matching her season high in points.
Hill, the Big Ten's leading scorer at more than 21 points a game, hit 8 of 14 shots from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and made 7 of 8 free throws.
''It comes with us being veteran guards and bringing that experience,'' said Hill, a junior.
Ohio State coach Jim Foster said Prahalis and Hill are comfortable late in games.
''They're good with the ball in their hands,'' he said. ''There's more room to operate and more complementary attributes for their skills with all five players on the floor. This team, our attributes, fit together nicely.''
Karisma Penn had 23 points, Adrienne GodBold 18, Amber Moore 13 and Ivory Crawford 12 for the Illini (6-14, 0-7), who added to their list of close losses in conference play.
Four of their six losses in the Big Ten have come on the final possession or in overtime, not counting the close call on Sunday. They shot 53 percent from the field but were undone by 21 turnovers - and Ohio State's big two making plays with the game hanging in the balance.
Illinois starter Kersten Magrum, averaging 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds, missed her third game in a row with symptoms from a concussion she suffered in a game against Wisconsin.
With Ohio State holding a 76-68 lead, the Illini ran off the next eight points on two field goals by Crawford, one by GodBold and two foul shots by Lydia McCully.
But from there, the Buckeyes took over by scoring nine of the next 10 points.
''We could easily be 5-2 (in the Big Ten),'' Penn said. ''We're in all the games. It just gets away from us at the end.''
Since their only loss of the season, a 73-62 setback at Michigan on Jan. 7, the Buckeyes have beaten Northwestern 82-72, Michigan State 64-56 and No. 20 Nebraska 82-68 on Thursday night.
The Buckeyes have won 30 of their last 32, the only losses coming at rival Michigan and in last spring's NCAA regional semifinal against Tennessee.
They improved to 155-13 at home in Foster's 10 seasons - but it wasn't easy.
''I don't think it should have got to that point, but it was, like, `OK,''' Prahalis said. ''We just wrote up a play, Tay hit a 3 and then we had an out-of-bounds play and coach Foster drew up a play and I hit a 3 and we just kind of kept rolling.''
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap .