Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is starting to make a habit of stepping up for Ohio State’s men’s basketball team.
For the second time in as many weeks, the sophomore guard made a big impact for the Buckeyes during a high-profile home game.
Smith Jr. had 17 points and 12 rebounds during OSU’s 64-49 win against Michigan Sunday. It was his first career double-double and his 12 rebounds mark a personal best.
Against Indiana on Jan. 15, Smith exploded for 28 points and seven rebounds in an 80-63 win against the Hoosiers.
The performances have earned Smith Jr. a nickname from sophomore forward Jared Sullinger.
“Big Game L,” Sullinger said. “That’s Big Game L for you. When Lenzelle’s rebounding the ball and he’s in tune with the defense, he’s pretty darn good.”
Rebounding led to much of Smith Jr.’s success against the Wolverines.
Eight of Smith Jr.’s 12 boards came on the offensive end of the floor, which is the highest total any Buckeye has recorded this year.
“He had a great feel for where the ball was coming off today,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “He’s got a knack for the basketball. That was good to see.”
Smith Jr. stands 6-foot-4 and, as a guard, is not in the mold of a guy who typically grabs a high number of rebounds.
Matta said Smith Jr.’s physical strength is part of what allows him to be successful on the boards.
“He’s stronger than he probably looks,” Matta said. “Today a lot of them came his way and he was able to put them back and finish.”
But Smith Jr. doesn’t always put up gaudy rebounding statistics. On the season, he averages 4.4 rebounds per game.
Against Indiana, it was Smith Jr.’s 3-point shooting, and not his rebounding, that stood out.
He connected on four out of five shots from behind the arc in OSU’s victory.
The fact that Smith Jr. is able to contribute in different ways is something Matta said he’s used to seeing and is something very valuable to the team.
“We sort of need a jack-of-all-trades,” Matta said. “There are so many times a team is going to choose to guard us a certain way, scheme a certain defense. I think that he is really understanding his role.”
Against Michigan, Smith Jr. said he knew he could fulfill his role by crashing the boards. He said he focused on it and capitalized.
“I knew that was going to be our edge, rebounding and just doing the little things,” he said. “I stuck to that early and just got myself in a position where I could get the rebounds. We weren’t making many shots so it was a better chance on getting rebounds.”
Smith Jr. made an impact on the defensive end of the floor as well. He was charged with the task of guarding Michigan sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr. who is the Wolverines’ leading scorer. Hardaway Jr. scored 15 points, which is below his season average.
Overall the Buckeyes held Michigan to 49 points, which is their lowest scoring output of the season.
“I felt like we were connected (on defense),” Smith Jr. said. “Whenever we come out and we’re connected on defense we pretty much get the job done and stop the other team from scoring.”
The win put the Buckeyes in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings with a 7-2 conference record and moved their overall record to 19-3.
Matta said winning is something Smith Jr. knows how to do.
“Lenzelle is a winner,” Matta said. “He wants to play well and he wants to help this basketball team. The energy-type plays that he made today was something that definitely gave us a spurt and a boost of energy and that’s the type of things I’d like for him to do.”