Smith Overcomes Illness as Buckeyes Exact Revenge on Hoosiers
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the days leading up to Ohio State’s rematch against Indiana, sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. became so ill that he had to be isolated from the rest of the team.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, that quarantine was lifted by Sunday.
Smith led all scorers with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-12 shooting as No. 5 Ohio State (16-3, 4-2) dominated No. 7 Indiana (15-3, 3-3) throughout an 80-63 blowout at Value City Arena.
Their latest victory allowed the Buckeyes to serve a measure of revenge to the Hoosiers, who defeated OSU 74-70 in Bloomington, Ind. on New Year’s Eve.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger said after the game.
“We just wanted to come out and just play our game and give the fans a good show. I believe Lenzelle did that.”
It was a show that almost didn’t happen.
Following the Buckeyes’ 79-74 loss to Illinois on Sunday, Smith came down with a case of strep throat that didn’t allow him to do much more than sleep and eat chicken noodle soup until Saturday.
“I honestly didn’t know if he was going to play,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
“He actually looked pretty good in practice yesterday, he didn’t do a ton.”
The impressive showing at practice certainly carried over to Sunday. The sophomore from Illinois outscored Indiana on his own in the first half with 18 points to the Hoosiers’ 14. The Buckeyes took a 35-14 lead into intermission thanks to what was an apparent increase in focus on the defensive side of the ball for OSU.
“We had three great days of practice,” OSU sophomore guard Aaron Craft said.
“It’s a great lesson for us to learn that we’re going to play as we practice. It’s good to see us come out and have good practices and follow it up in a game.”
The second half wasn’t much kinder to Indiana, who failed to bring the OSU lead to fewer than 16 points after halftime. After scoring just two points in the first half, Sullinger scored 14 points in the second half, giving him 16 total points to go along with nine rebounds. The Buckeye big man credited his increased production after halftime to the shooting stroke of Smith.
“In the second half, they stopped leaving Lenzelle,” Sullinger said.
“It was just a two-way street, which works out perfectly in our game plan.”
Feeding the ball into the post still could not stop Smith, who came into Sunday’s game averaging 5.2 points per game, from scoring 10 more points in the second half. The 6-foot-5 guard said he was responding to a game plan that called for him to take advantage of Indiana double-teaming Sullinger.
“We had some different sets that were specifically for the guy leaving me,” Smith said. “We executed them well today and it turned out to be a good factor for us.
Joining Smith in double-digit scoring for the Buckeyes was senior guard William Buford with 12 points and sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas with 11. Freshman forward Cody Zeller led Indiana with 16 points and six rebounds and junior forward Christian Watson added 13 points for the Hoosiers.
The story of the game remained the outburst of Smith, who Indiana coach Tom Crean said could be the difference in OSU reaching its ultimate goal at the end of the season.
“They can win the national championship with that,” Crean said.
“That’s what they had last year. They had five guys that could score at any given point.”
The Buckeyes won’t play again until Saturday, when they’ll travel to Lincoln, Neb. to face Nebraska at 8 p.m.
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