COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been the weakest offensive player for Ohio State, so it seemed only natural that Indiana coach Tom Crean would choose to have his defense apply more pressure on the other Buckeyes.
That strategy backfired when Smith had the best game of his career.
Smith more than doubled his career high with 28 points on Sunday to lead No. 5 Ohio State to a surprisingly easy 80-63 victory over Indiana (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP).
"Throughout the game I just saw my man leave me every single time," said Smith, who came in averaging 5.2 points a game. "The first game (against Indiana), I was complaining about that to my team. This game we capitalized that and we were able to get some easy buckets."
There was no way Indiana was going to allow All-American forward Jared Sullinger to have his way inside. Crean didn't apologize for leaving Smith all alone on the perimeter.
"Lenzelle is averaging four shots a game. Look it up," Crean said after talking to his team for more than a half hour after the game. "He really played well. He played well at our place, but they've got a lot of good players. That's why they're as good as they are."
Smith, who missed practice on Thursday and Friday with a bad case of strep throat, made the most of almost every chance he had.
"That's kind of like a coach's dream when you see it going in there," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of Smith's shooting. "Because you're making them pay for the adjustment that they're making. He did a tremendous job with that."
Sullinger added 16 points, William Buford 12 and Deshaun Thomas 11 for the Buckeyes (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten), who were coming off a loss at Illinois on Tuesday night. Several players questioned their teammates' commitment and effort after that game.
There was no doubt about either on Sunday as Ohio State took command early and was never threatened.
Smith was the No. 1 reason.
Smith, who came in scoring about five points per game, erased almost every offensive high-water mark he had ever had in a game. He hit 10 of 12 shots from the field including 4 of 5 3-pointers. He also had seven rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Matta joked that he was going to try to give each of his players a case of strep throat.
Earlier this week, Ohio State's players vowed to pay back the Hoosiers for a 74-71 loss back on New Year's Eve. In that game, the Buckeyes had 17 turnovers and 22 fouls. Sullinger got off just five shots from the field, Buford finished with eight points and Thomas scored just five points, due to foul trouble. In addition, point guard Aaron Craft had a career-high six turnovers.
Smith's previous career best was 12 in that game. He had surpassed that with almost 3 minutes left in the opening half on Sunday.
"He came to the sideline after he took that pull-up transition shot (that he missed)," Sullinger said with a grin. "He was, like, 'My bad, guys.' I said, 'Hey, you're on. Keep shooting it!' I had no problem with it."
The Buckeyes had the game well in hand throughout the second half after finishing the half on a 15-2 run to build a 35-14 advantage. Yet they energized a raucous capacity crowd of 18,809 at Value City Arena with several plays in the final 20 minutes.
Sullinger wrestled the ball away from a driving Hulls and tossed an outlet pass while lying on the floor -- Smith threw down a thunderous dunk at the other end to make it 47-23 with 15:23 left.
The lead never fell below 16 after halftime.
The game was the first Indiana has played against another top 10 team since 2002 and the Hoosiers' first visit to an opponent also ranked in single digits since 1992.
"We just didn't execute the way we need to," Hulls said. "They definitely wanted to get up into us and keep us from executing our offense. We've got to play tougher than that."
The win was Ohio State's 36th in a row at home, the second-longest streak in program history.
Just before the game, new Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer stopped by the Ohio State locker room to see Matta.
"We were talking and I asked him, 'You want to say a few words to the team?' " Matta said. "He was good. Really, really good."
Asked if the message was about toughness, Matta smiled and said, "Yeah. Yeah."
- Terry Wymer
- Pat Driscoll
- Gene Steratore