After playing well on the offensive end of the floor for much of non-conference play, stringing together seven consecutive double-digit outings at one point, Ohio State senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. struggled in the 17th-ranked Buckeyes’ first six Big Ten games.
Reaching double figures in three of their six games entering Thursday’s matchup with Illinois, Smith shot 4-for-25 from three and 35.1% from the field overall. Given the Buckeyes’ lack of a marquee scoring option they need multiple players to step up offensively, and that includes Smith.
So if there’s anything to be taken from the Buckeyes’ 62-55 win over the Fighting Illini, it may be the fact that Smith snapped out of his slump in helping Ohio State end its four-game losing streak.
Smith scored 16 points on the night, making four of his eight shot attempts from beyond the arc, to supplement the 18 scored by LaQuinton Ross. Ross scored 14 of his 18 in the second half, and as a team Ohio State shot 54.2% from the field and 5-for-9 from three in the game’s final 20 minutes. While Thad Matta’s team did a better job of working the ball around (eight assists on 13 made baskets) in the second half, the fact of the matter is that they made shots after struggling to do so in losses to Minnesota and Nebraska.
With their improved shooting the Buckeyes scored 1.15 points per possession in the second half after scoring just 0.86 points per possession in the first. Add in some solid defense, which included making sure that the slumping Rayvonte Rice (0-for-8, no points) didn’t get untracked, and the Buckeyes were able to end the program’s longest losing streak since the 2007-08 season.
At this point in the season it’s clear that Ohio State doesn’t have a player capable of taking over offensively in the manner that Deshaun Thomas did a season ago. But with that being the case, the consistency of players such as Ross, Smith and Aaron Craft (11 points, six rebounds and five assists) becomes even more important. Thursday’s win wasn’t the prettiest of results, but given the struggles of Ohio State as a team and Lenzelle Smith Jr. individually it was a night the Buckeyes needed.