Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 28 points and Ohio State gained a measure of revenge with an 80-63 win over visiting Indiana on Sunday afternoon.
Smith, the beneficiary of a decision to double-team star Buckeye post player Jared Sullinger, outscored the seventh-ranked Hoosiers 18-14 in the first half and the fifth-ranked Buckeyes rolled to their 16th win of the season and improved to 4-2 in Big Ten play.
The sophomore guard was all alone on the right wing when he drained a three-pointer that prompted Indiana head coach Tom Crean to call timeout with 8:18 to go in the first half and his team trailing 25-12.
Whatever the Hoosier mentor said did not have much of a positive effect as his team went into an offensive deep freeze that would last nearly 10 minutes.
The Hoosiers went 0-9 from the field and committed five turnovers between Cody Zeller’s three-point play at the 10:01 mark and the freshman center’s driving layup with 1:30 left in the half.
Ohio State outscored the visitors 12-0 during the Indiana dry spell with eight of the points coming from Smith. The player normally known for his defense delighted the crowd of 18,809 at Value City Arena with an 18-point outburst in the first 20 minutes. He made 4 of 5 three-pointers and personally outscored Indiana by four. He exceeded his career high of 12 points set in a 74-71 loss at Indiana on Dec. 31.
That was a game the Buckeyes had on their minds a they prepared for the second encounter with the Hoosiers.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” Sullinger said. “We just wanted to come out and play our game and give the fans a good show. I believe Lenzelle did that.”
This time around, Smith’s hot shooting led Indiana to adjust in the second half, opening up the lane for Sullinger, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the final 20 minutes.
Teammates William Buford and Deshaun Thomas joined him in double figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Smith was predictably humble after by far his best college game.
“I just want to come out and play good basketball,” he said. “If they double off of Jared and leave me open, hopefully I can make shots. If it’s someone else, hopefully I can get the ball to them and they can make shots.”
Zeller led Indiana with 16 points while forward Christian Watford had 13 and point guard Jordan Hulls added 11.
Indiana outscored the Buckeyes 49-45 in the second half but never got closer than 16.
Crean did not second guess his decision to give Smith a chance to be a hero.
“Lenzelle Smith Jr. went above and beyond what he usually does,” Crean said after his team fell to 15-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. “He averaged two field goals made and four goals attempted and today he was 10 of 12.”
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta was happy to see Smith take advantage of the opportunities Indiana’s defense afforded him, but he was more eager to talk about the defense the Buckeyes played, especially in the first half.
Indiana made three of its first four shots but went to the locker room at halftime having made only a 27.3-percent clip. The Hoosiers were 6 for 22 overall and committed 12 turnovers Ohio State turned into 14 points in the first half.
“That’s what I dream about at night,” Matta said. “I think we’ve shown signs of that but it’s that consistency, having that energy or whatever it was. We constantly talk with these guys about having five connected and that’s probably one of the biggest challenges from a team like last year’s team to this year’s team. Veterans cover up for each other’s mistakes, and we haven’t covered up a lot of our mistakes defensively. Today I thought we did a pretty good job with that.”
Crean felt his team let Ohio State take it out of what it wanted to do.
“The game really came down to our lack of response to the physicality of the game from the beginning. You’re not going to beat a team that’s as talented as they are when you don’t respond to that. We were not as good as we needed to be defensively, and once they got up we got a little bit of that deer-in-the-headlight look, especially on the offensive end. Instead of continuing to create angles for feeds and get the ball reversed and play through the contact and execute our cuts and screens and things of that nature, we did not always respond on both ends of the floor.”
The sellout crowd at Value City Arena also got a thrill at halftime when new Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer took center court to introduce his family as well as the new members of his coaching staff.
“It's great to be back home in the great state of Ohio,” the Ashtabula native said to a resounding cheer.
The biggest response came when Meyer called the name of Luke Fickell, a former Buckeye nose guard who led the program through a difficult nine-month period in the wake of NCAA scandal and the departure of previous head coach Jim Tressel. The fans also showed a healthy appreciation for Meyer’s brief description of plans for the offense.
“We’re going to run the spread, open it up a little bit,” the head coach said when introducing offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Not present was cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, who accepted a job at Arkansas as assistant defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
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