Lenzelle Bails Out Buckeyes in Win at Northwestern
By Brandon Castel
After watching him score a career-high 21 points against Michigan State on Sunday, everyone was waiting to see what Aaron Craft would do for an encore.
Instead, it was Lenzelle Smith Jr. who showed up and bailed out the Buckeyes during Thursday night’s 63-53 win at Northwestern.
The junior out of Zion, Ill., a town just north of Chicago along the shores of Lake Michigan, scored a season-high 24 points as No. 16 Ohio State (21-7, 11-5 Big Ten) avoided the upset in Evanston.
Deshaun Thomas got off to a slow start, missing all five of his shots from behind the arc, but scored a number of clutch baskets for the Buckeyes in the final minutes. OSU closed out the game on a 15-4 run to win by 10 on the road.
Thomas finished with 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting, but it was Ohio State’s defense that delivered a win in the final, tense moments of a game that looked like it could go either way for 37 minutes.
Sam Thompson blocked four shots and Shannon Scott had four steals, including a big one in the final two minutes of the game when he ripped the ball away and ran the court before dishing off to Thomas for a layup.
That basket capped a 7-0 run for the Buckeyes and gave Thad Matta’s group a 55-49 lead with under two minutes to play. Northwestern (13-16, 4-12) scored quickly at the other end to make it a four-point game, but Thomas sliced into the lane, spun around his defender and scored on a soft layup to put OSU back in front by six.
All of that came after Northwestern had erased Ohio State’s 29-22 halftime lead. The Buckeyes were actually in front by as many as 11 in the first two minutes of the second half, but the Wildcats refused to go away quietly.
A pair of Lenzelle Smith free throws gave OSU a 33-22 lead with 18:48 to play in the second half, but Northwestern struck back quickly with a 19-7 run to take the lead.
Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps each connected from long range and Kale Abrahamson knocked down an off-balance three as the shot clock expired to give his team a 41-40 lead with 10:14 to play.
Demps finished with a team-high 14 points and Sobolewski added 13 off the bench, but Northwestern could never quite make the big play to get out in front of the visiting Buckeyes. They grabbed a 49-48 lead on a three from Reggie Hearn with 4:04 to play, but Ohio State took control the rest of the way.
Lenzelle Smith came right back down and nailed a three at the other end, his sixth of the game. Thompson came up with a steal and hit Craft for his first two points of the game and OSU was back in front by four.
Northwestern turned the ball over on each of its next two possessions, finishing with 15 of them on the night. Craft and Scott each split a pair of free throws and Sam Thompson threw down the exclamation point with a thunderous dunk to put OSU ahead by eight with 27 seconds to play.
With the victory, Ohio State moved one-half game ahead of Michigan for sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten. The Wildcats, meanwhile, suffered their sixth-straight loss and eighth in nine games.
The Buckeyes will close out the season with Indiana on the road next Tuesday and Illinois at home on Sunday March 10.
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