On New Years Eve, just a couple of hours before the end of what had been an awful 2011, the Buckeyes hit a road block in Bloomington, Indiana that left a bad taste in the mouths of Buckeye fans. The loss to Kansas on the road was written off to Sullinger’s absence, but the loss to the Hoosiers just felt wrong. Several days later, the Buckeyes dropped another road game to the Fighting Illini, and now there was a sense of unease in Buckeye Nation. Not to say that people were worried, as the NCAA basketball season is a long and forgiving one, but the team needed a big win to get back on the right path. That win came last night in Columbus, as the Buckeyes, led by Lenzelle Smith, Jr., crushed the Hoosiers of Indiana by a final score of 80-63.
Tom Crean, Indiana’s head coach, had a fairly good defensive plan to begin the game, but his inability to break away from that plan ultimately allowed OSU to manhandle a good Indiana squad. Crean felt that Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Ohio State’s lowest scoring starter (5 points per game prior to last night), could be left unguarded in certain situations, to allowed another man to double down on the post position, usually Sullinger. However, Smith made the Hoosiers pay for this strategy early and often as he went 10 of 12 from the field (3-4 from behind the arc) and upped his previous career best by 16 points, finishing with 28 on the night.
The Buckeyes wasted no time in establishing their “revenge” for the loss in Bloomington by jumping out to a quick 7-2 lead and never looking back. After an initial basket by Indiana’s Jordan Hulls, OSU regained the lead and held it for the final 39 minutes of the contest. The Hoosiers had been leading the Big Ten in shooting percentage and 3 point percentage, but thanks to suffocating defense by the Bucks, Indiana was unable to find their rhythm. Ohio State’s defense managed 10 steals on the night and held Indiana to just 14 points in the entire first half of play. In comparison, Lenzelle Smith, Jr. went into halftime with 18 points to his stat line.
Although the road gets tougher for the Buckeyes as they progress into February, this win should help to build confidence and keep the team focused on the task at hand. The Big Ten has proven its toughness this year, so OSU cannot afford to take a game off, but it’s nice to see scoring in a big game come from unexpected places. Smith was able to score more in this game than he had in the previous 4 combined, so I wouldn’t bet on too many other coaches adopting Crean’s strategy of giving him open space, or they’ll likely see the same results.
Hats off to the Bucks for this big win, and stay tuned as they take on Nebraska, in Lincoln, on Saturday at 8pm.
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