COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There's no looking back for Ohio State (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP).
Samantha Prahalis scored 18 points and Jantel Lavender had 17 points and 10 rebounds, leading the way Sunday as the Buckeyes regrouped from back-to-back losses to beat Northwestern 81-55.
"We left the Iowa game in Iowa City," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said of Thursday night's second straight road defeat. "We left it there. We came back and we've had a couple days of practice. This team does a very good job of dealing with today. They're fun to be in the gym with. They practice hard. It's just an enjoyable experience. [They say] 'That's over, what's next?"
The Buckeyes (20-5, 11-3 Big Ten) moved back into a tie for first place with Michigan State in the conference with four games remaining. They are gunning for a fifth straight Big Ten title.
"It's a major goal," Lavender said of the drive for five. "It's something you should cherish as a team and we shouldn't take it for granted when we play any team. We have to come out and protect it every time we play. If we play how we played tonight, reversing the ball and the offense is flowing and we're playing really solid defense, then we're definitely hard to stop."
Star Allen added 13 points and Brittany Johnson 12 for the Buckeyes, who had won 13 of their last 14 games before dropping road games at Michigan State and Iowa last week.
Northwestern (6-19, 2-12) managed just four field goals in the opening half while falling behind 39-17.
"I knew they were going to try to prove a point, to prove they're better than how they played against Michigan State and Iowa," Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. "They just played really well today. And they shot the ball really well."
The Buckeyes hit half of their 16 3-pointers and shot 47 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Wildcats couldn't find the hoop. They made just 19 percent (4 of 21) of their shots from the field in the first half and finished at 26 percent (15 of 57).
"On offense we got into a flow and moved the ball well," said Prahalis, a freshman. "Of course, we got a lot of deflections and steals in this game, too. But on offense we were into a flow the whole game."
Brittany Orban had 25 points -- almost double her career high of 13 -- for the Wildcats, who lost their 17th straight game to Ohio State. They have dropped nine of their last 10 games overall.
Amy Jaeschke, who came in leading Northwestern in scoring (14.6), didn't score in the first half and finished with four points in 34 minutes.
"She got pushed up the lane a lot and got a little bit out of her rhythm," McKeown said. "She was stagnant and we stood around a lot. That doesn't help."
This one was over early, and not just because it had a strange 11 a.m. start dictated by the Big Ten's television network. Ahead 8-4 after the opening 4 minutes, the Buckeyes scored 14 of the next 16 points over the next 7 1/2 minutes while the Wildcats missed all four of their shots from the field and committed seven turnovers.
After Orban had a four-point play to slow the surge, Ohio State ran off the next 11 points to swell the lead to 33-10.
Ohio State shooting guard Ashlee Trebilcock sat out to rest an achy right knee, ending a streak of 20 straight starts. Johnson started in her place and hit an early 3 to touch off Ohio State's first spurt.
The win set up a wild finish in the Big Ten. Michigan State has home games remaining against Michigan and Minnesota, with road games at Indiana and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes play at Minnesota on Thursday and Indiana Sunday before returning home to play Wisconsin and Penn State.
"We're still getting better. We still can get better," Foster said. "I don't know how many teams can say that at this time of year."