COLUMBUS — Ohio State center Jantel Lavender is a two-time All-American and a three-time Big Ten player of the year. However, in Thursday’s game, she wasn’t even the best center on the court.
That distinction belongs to sophomore Rachel Sheffer, who led the Michigan women’s basketball team to a stunning 69-66 victory over the Buckeyes. Sheffer, who is only 6-foot-1, disrupted anything Lavender tried to do on offense. She constantly poked and prodded the 6-foot-4 Lavender, forcing the ball out of her hands or keeping the ball away from her all together. Lavender came into the game averaging 23 points, and Sheffer held her to just 14.
Not only did Sheffer effectively shut down one of the best players in the country, but she was also able to score on Lavender. Sheffer scored a career-high 23 points on 54 percent shooting, including three 3-pointers.
“(Sheffer) probably feels good because she scored 23 points, but that’s the expectation for every game,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said after the game. “That’s what she’s capable of doing and every time she steps on the court.”
Sheffer used a flurry of post moves to get around Lavender and the Buckeyes, and constantly tipped the ball back to the perimeter for Wolverine rebounds.
“She’s got a nice back to the basket game,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “She has the ability to play low and then step out and hit a three.”
But most importantly, she played her best when it mattered the most.
Sheffer hit two free throws with 29 seconds left in the game to put Michigan up by one; then tipped the ball to sophomore guard Jenny Ryan after an Ohio State miss on the ensuing possession. Ryan nailed both the free throws, sealing the game.
“I think coming into this game I had a lot more confidence than I usually have,” Sheffer said. “It’s just feeding off the team, my teammates just say, ‘You can do it, you’re a great player,’ and just getting more comfortable playing at this level.”
Sheffer’s play was exactly what the Wolverines needed, especially with junior forward Carmen Reynolds scoring only four points — seven below her season average. Reynolds is the team’s second-leading scorer, but never seemed in sync offensively. So Sheffer picked up the slack.
Whenever the Wolverines went on a run, it seemed Sheffer was behind it. She was the primary reason in bringing Michigan back from their halftime abyss, scoring 10 points during a 12-3 run that opened up the second half.
Sheffer was unstoppable at times, looking like she was the two-time All-American.
“We get it to the block and Rachel does something with it — that’s props to her for coming to the gym and putting in the time,” senior guard Veronica Hicks said. “She’s definitely one of my all-time favorites.”