Smith's Scoring Crucial to Buckeye Success
By Rob Ogden
A four-game losing streak in the Big Ten might have played Ohio State out of contention for the league's regular season crown, but hope still remains for a strong run through the postseason, which begins with game No. 32.
The Buckeyes' success during the postseason, and the rest of the regular season for that matter, might be determined by their No. 32.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the team's second leading scorer. He's averaging a career-best 12.1 points per game and a career-high 27.8 minutes.
Photo by Dan Harker
When he's on, the Buckeyes are tough to beat, but when he's not, the offense usually struggles mightily.
During the first 15 games of the season, Smith shot better than 50 percent from the floor and Ohio State won every game.
From Nov. 25 through Dec. 18, he averaged nearly 16 points per game.
But from Jan. 7 through Jan. 20, Smith's shooting percentage dipped to 33 percent, and he averaged 8.75 points per game.
The Buckeyes lost all four games.
Last week against Illinois, Smith finally appeared to get back on track as he scored 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 4-for-8 from 3. It was by far his best game since Big Ten play began Dec. 31 and was enough to earn Ohio State its first win since Jan. 4.
Smith said it was "a mental thing" that plagued him during the cold stretch.
"Sometimes I get in a state of mind of, 'Ah, you miss a shot, maybe you should try to get in the paint now and try to get a layup,'" he said.
Though his teammates never wanted Smith to stop shooting.
"These two specifically," Smith said motioning towards Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross. "They were yelling at me, 'Why are you not shooting the ball?' That kind of gave me extra motivation of well, they want me to shoot, that's my job on this team, and I'm going to shoot. Luckily, down the stretch, it came through for us."
Guard play is often the key to postseason success, and Smith is the Buckeyes' best scoring threat from the perimeter.
In a Dec. 21 game against Notre Dame, Ohio State trailed the Fighting Irish 58-50 with less than a minute to play. Smith had zero points.
But in the game's final 45 seconds, Smith scored nine points and the Buckeyes won 64-61.
He was on again in the late minutes against Illinois. Smith beat the shot clock with a 3-point dagger that put the game out of reach with 1:21 to play.
Coach Thad Matta said he was happy to see Smith shoot up near 50 percent again, and joked that "That probably takes him up to about 6 percent now in the Big Ten, so we're jacked up."
Before Thursday, Smith was 4-for-25 from 3-point range in Big Ten play. That's 16 percent.
So Matta probably should be jacked up, because he likely knows that when Smith is scoring, the Buckeyes are winning.
“Honestly, I’m happy for Lenzelle because he’s been very diligent the last few days in there working and trying to get everything right,” Matta said. “You see that, and that’s what excites you as a coach and you’re happy for him when it goes in.”
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