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Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith Jr.: ‘Guys gotta get their confidence back’

Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. (32) drives to the basket during a game against Northwestern Feb. 19 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 76-60. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. (32) drives to the basket during a game against Northwestern Feb. 19 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 76-60.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

College basketball seasons are bound to come with their respective twists and turns. Even an unblemished record doesn’t come without an off night or a close game.

One day a team can be seemingly nailing every shot it takes and blowing out opponents while on the next, it can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

During the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s current two-game losing streak, the Buckeyes (22-8, 9-8, sixth in the Big Ten) have experienced more of the latter.

In particular, shooting from long range has been a struggle for OSU in losses to Penn State and Indiana.

Against the Nittany Lions, coach Thad Matta’s team shot a pedestrian 29.4 percent from beyond the arc. As rough as that performance was, it paled in comparison to what OSU did against Indiana Sunday.

For the first time since Jan. 10, 2004, OSU failed to connect from three-point land, missing all 11 of its attempts, and fell to the Hoosiers, 72-64.

Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the loss to Indiana, the struggles from beyond the arc are an easy fix, however.

“Shooting, that’s about confidence,” Smith Jr. said in an interview with Cleveland.com. “Guys gotta get their confidence back and we’ve got shooters so there’s no excuse. We’ve got to put the ball in the bucket. We’ve got guys who can make threes and we’ve got to step up and obviously put the ball in the bucket.”

Smith Jr. tied junior forward LaQuinton Ross for a team-high with 19 points against the Hoosiers and shot 60 percent from the floor, but he missed both of his attempts from beyond the arc. He also shot just 1-6 from deep against Penn State.

Matta said he has sensed confidence is dipping for OSU, especially when pressure is turned up.

“We were rolling until Thursday night (against Penn State), in all seriousness,” Matta said to Cleveland.com after the loss to Indiana. “I think we’re really lacking in a confidence issue, we’re lacking in a toughness issue in terms of playing through situations. Those are things that somehow, some way, we’ve got to get corrected.”

The Buckeyes’ need to regain their confidence is a high priority as the regular season draws to a close. They currently sit half a game behind Iowa and Nebraska in the Big Ten standings, who are tied for fourth in the Big Ten. The top four teams in the standings receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, set to begin March 13.

Smith Jr. was quick to add that even though the confidence has been lacking lately, the mood in the locker room doesn’t give any reason to believe the trend will continue.

“We’re a great team when we come to execute and when we’re on top of our game,” Smith Jr. said to Cleveland.com. “I said we can beat any team in the country, and I’m going to stick by that … I should be happy with what we should produce at the end of the season.

“I’m not panicking. I’m not worried about anything.”

Since using a huge second half to beat Minnesota, 64-46, Feb. 22, it appears something has been off with the team.

Ross said in an interview with Cleveland.com a big part of that is a lack of focus — something that could become a big problem if it is allowed to continue.

“We just get too comfortable at times during the game, thinking we’ve got the lead and (that) we’re going to be able to hold it,” Ross said of the 21-5 run the Buckeyes allowed against Indiana, which the Hoosiers used to take the lead for good. “Not thinking that those other teams we’re playing are just as good as us. They’re putting their foot on the gas, and we’re taking ours off it.”

Ross, OSU’s leading scorer, knows a thing or two about losing focus during a game. Ross was ejected during OSU’s game against Northwestern for shoving a player and committed a technical foul against Indiana for a similar infraction.

Those are the type of things that can prove costly, Matta said, especially late in the season.

“I told LaQuinton: ‘Hey, man, you get a technical foul and it’s your second foul and then you’re having your way in the second half and you foul out of the game,’” Matta said to Cleveland.com. “Little things. Those are the types of things that say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get our concentration back, get our focus back and an understanding of what we’re doing.’”

OSU’s next opportunity to try working through the rough spots in its play comes against No. 22 Michigan State (22-7, 11-5, tied for second in the Big Ten) when the Spartans are set to come to Columbus Sunday. Tipoff is slated for 4:30 p.m.


  1. In all my years following OSU (B.A., 1966; M.A. 1968; Ph.D., 1980) I have never seen a team so out of focus, so lacking in what it takes to play together, not only not understanding but apparently not capable of understanding what the game is about. A marvelous point guard with limited offensive skills (though I hear he averaged 27 points a game in high school) charging like a bull inrto three and four defensive players and — surprise — losing the ball. By the time this year is over, Aaron Craft will be lucky to be playing in the Chillicothe-Xenia league. Poor Shannon Scott never met a lay-up he couldn’t screw up, Williams acts like he really doesn’t like basketball (when he borthers to show up), Smith may get 19 points in a game but please do not presume to count on him when the game is on the line, and Thompson not only can jump out of the gym, there are moments when you wish he would. I’m not so much worried about this year — this team always finds a surprising win — but I am concerned about next year and the year after.

  2. Ya know I have watched OSU sports for something like 20 years now and I gotta tell ya when this season began I had HUGE expectations. After the way last season went I really thought Ross would be the man! I don’t know what Craft has been doing lately but its not his usual game. I had him going in the 4th-5th round to the NBA but now it looks like he may just stay in the medicine field. As far as Williams,, well thats the biggest mystery about this team! He is big enough and (when he wants to be) talented enough to be the best center in college basketball and SHOULD be the talk of the draft. But of course as you all know he simply is not. I dont know if maybe as John just said, maybe williams just dosnt want to play basketball? But the bottom line here is this- these are kids. And as all kids no matter the talent level they need to be COACHED! This is the very first season I have ever thought of questioning Mr. Matta but come on! I would have had a heart to heart with williams a LONG time ago. I would have told him look, either you want to play or you dont! This is OHIO STATE dude! Either you come here to play your absolute hardest and best level of basketball you can play or get the hell out of here! This team also makes you wonder if Matta simply needs a hands down scorer to build his offense around because it really seems like he is having all sorts of issues figuring out how to make this team play together, how to get a dam rebound, how to RUN UP AND DOWN THE DAMN COURT( WILLIAMS) and how to just get the ball down low if the shots aren’t falling. But then again Im not a head coach, just a fan of the game and the game is what I wish OSU would start playing. Hoping for the best come the NCAA tourney but first things first, you gotta WANT to win in order to win. Lets see…… and prey.

  3. Where is Chris Jent when we need him. Seems like the 20 year old kids who play their hearts out for nothing are the only ones being criticized for being 7-8 the second half of the season. Yet, Mr. Great Diplomat for OSU, Mr. Great Recruiter for OSU, Mr. Excellent Off The Court Leader of OSU and Mr. Gigantic Money Maker for OSU is also maybe a very questionable mediocre floor coach of OSU. How does a coach who makes a multi million dollar annual salary escape any criticism whatsoever for the repeated failures of this team? Why is this OSU coach immune to criticism and why has he never once this season admitted that he bares any responsibility for even one problem that occurred during any game. I have watched a second time, each of the games OSU lost and there are plenty of coaching mistakes, coaching opportunities not seized upon and coaching adjustments never made that contribute significantly to OSU’s losses. Matts deserves to coach OSU, no question about it. Yet, we are seeing his flaws in adjusting to game conditions that have been evident to a lesser degree during other years when he’s been clearly out coached in big games. He needs to take some responsibility for the problems this year instead of allowing a “too frightened to criticize” press let him off the hook because they don’t dare risk saying anything negative about him.

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