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Lenzelle Smith Jr. powers Ohio State in blowout win against Indiana

Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor

By all accounts, sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s fifth man.

Sophomore forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, along with senior guard William Buford, provide the Buckeyes with most of the scoring and sophomore guard Aaron Craft gets headlines for his toughness and defense.

But Smith Jr. often lurks in the background of OSU’s starting five, quietly filling up the stat sheet.

There was nothing quiet about Smith Jr.’s performance in OSU’s 80-63 victory against Indiana Sunday.

The fifth man stepped into the forefront before a national audience and exploded for 28 points and seven rebounds.

At halftime, Smith Jr. had outscored the entire Indiana team, 18-14.

It was a performance nobody saw coming, including Indiana coach Tom Crean.

“Lenzelle went above and beyond today,” Crean said. “He averages about four shots a game and today he was 10-of-12. He was the difference in the game.”

Perhaps more surprising than the performance itself was the timing of it. Smith Jr. admitted to feeling under the weather during OSU’s loss to Illinois Jan. 10 and missed a few practices while recovering.

“He’s had strep throat,” Matta said. “I honestly didn’t know if he was going to play. He didn’t practice Thursday. He didn’t practice Friday. He wasn’t even here.”

Smith Jr. said it was difficult being away from his teammates while he was sick.

“It’s been tough because I had to be away from my team,” he said. “This is my family so not being by these guys is hard for me. I got some great sleep and chicken noodle soup though.”

Smith Jr. returned to practice Saturday and Matta had a game plan waiting for him.

“When I got back yesterday we had some different sets that were specifically for the guys leaving me (open),” Smith Jr. said. “It turned out to be good.”

Matta said that in the team’s first matchup with Indiana, he noticed the Hoosiers were double teaming the post off of Smith Jr. He expected Indiana to employ a similar strategy Sunday and when they did, Smith Jr. capitalized.

“That’s probably a coach’s dream because you’re making them pay for the adjustment they’re making,” Matta said. “(Smith Jr.) did a tremendous job with that.”

In the second half, Indiana changed their defensive strategy and stopped leaving Smith Jr. to double team the post. Sullinger capitalized and scored 14 points in the second half.

“It works both ways with me and Lenzelle,” Sullinger said. “If I kick out to Lenzelle, Lenzelle is wide open in the first half. Then all of the sudden they start sticking to Lenzelle … so Lenzelle started kicking it back to me. It’s just a two-way street.”

Crean said that when the Buckeyes are able to look to guys like Smith Jr. to make teams pay for focusing more on Sullinger or Buford defensively, OSU is as dangerous of a team as there is in the nation.

“They can win the national championship with that,” Crean said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

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