Ohio State sophomore forward Jared Sullinger said he was out for revenge against Indiana.
In front of new football coach Urban Meyer and his staff, Sullinger and his team got just that.
Meyer introduced his coaching staff to the crowd at the Schottenstein Center at halftime, but the basketball team kept the focus squarely on themselves.
The Buckeyes attacked the Hoosiers on both ends of the floor and avenged their Dec. 31 road loss, beating Indiana, 80-63.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” Sullinger said. “We just wanted to come out and play our game and give the crowd a good show.”
Sullinger may have pledged revenge, but it was Lenzelle Smith Jr. who got the Buckeyes started. The sophomore guard, who said he was coming off a case of strep throat, connected on his first five shots from the field.
Smith Jr. hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game just before the first half buzzer sounded and walked into the locker room with 18 points, four more than the entire Indiana team.
“Throughout the game, I just saw my man leave me every single time,” Smith Jr. said. “This game we capitalized off that and we were able to get some easy buckets.”
Along with Smith Jr., OSU’s recipe for success was its defense. The Buckeyes forced 12 first-half turnovers and held Indiana to 27.3 percent shooting while holding the Hoosiers to 14 points.
“Pressure, pressure, pressure,” Sullinger said. “We just wanted to get up in their jock strap according to coach Matta and just stop them from turning the ball from side to side.”
OSU head coach Thad Matta said he was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“The defense today is what I dream about,” Matta said. “We’ve shown signs of five players coming together and playing defense, but today we did a good job of playing total team defense.”
Sullinger was held to just two points in the first half, but got things rolling after intermission.
Sullinger said in the first half Indiana was double teaming him, but after Smith Jr. caught fire, he found more open space.
Sullinger found position inside and tallied six quick points in under five minutes for OSU in the second half. With over 15 minutes remaining, the Buckeye big man grabbed a rebound and lost his balance, but as he was falling backward, threw a long pass to senior guard William Buford, who caught the ball in stride streaking down the sideline. Buford dumped it off to a trailing Smith Jr. who finished with a two-handed dunk.
The duo of Sullinger and Smith Jr. kept Indiana at bay for rest of the game as the Hoosiers never cut the Buckeye lead below 16 points.
“They stopped leaving Lenzelle,” Sullinger said. “It works both ways with me and Lenzelle. If I kick it out to Lenzelle, Lenzelle is wide open in the first half. Then all the sudden they start sticking to Lenzelle … It was a two-way street which worked perfectly for our game plan.”
Indiana coach Tom Crean said Sullinger’s ability to move the ball out of the post was essential to Smith Jr.’s success and that skill played a big role for the Buckeyes.
“If you don’t take the ball from Sullinger, he is so good at not having to score it for his team to score,” Crean said.
Sullinger finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds.
Smith Jr. finished with a career-high 28 points and added 7 rebounds.
Buford and sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas also finished in double figures with 12 and 11 points respectively.
The Buckeye victory brings their record to 16-3 on the season and 4-2 in Big Ten play.
OSU will have five days off before traveling to Nebraska for the team’s second matchup with the Cornhuskers. OSU won the first contest, 71-40.
Tip for the rematch will be Saturday at 8 p.m.