For a much-hyped Top 10 matchup, this one wasn’t really close. The No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten) creamed the No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers (15-3, 3-3 Big Ten) 80-63 on their home court.
With both teams coming off disappointing losses, Coach Thad Matta’s Buckeyes showed a defensive intensity that they were sorely lacking at Illinois. Indiana turned the ball over 12 times in the first half alone, which was a major factor in the 35-14 halftime deficit.
All-American sophomore Jared Sullinger, who before the game took responsibility for his team’s defensive lapses, finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. His performance, along with point guard Aaron Craft’s 8 points, 7 assists and 3 steals, gave the Columbus crowd a lot to cheer about.
But on this day, Lenzelle Smith Jr. stole the spotlight from his better known teammates.
The one starter that even serious fans probably don’t know much about, Smith finished with a career high 28 points on 10 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Not bad for a guy who averages 5.2 points per game. His previous career high was 12.
The Hoosiers dug themselves too big of a hole in the first half and were never able to mount a serious rally. It didn’t help that their usually terrific shooting failed them. As a team, they shot 7 of 21 from deep despite leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage coming in at just under 46%.
Freshman phenom Cody Zeller was a bright spot, however, with 16 points and 6 rebounds. He continues to impress, as he showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and muscle his way inside. With Zeller manning the middle, the Hoosiers have a bright future.
One of the best stories in college basketball this season is the job Coach Tom Crean has done in Bloomington. Restoring a blue-blood program to national prominence has been no easy task, but in his fourth season, Crean should be in the conversation for National Coach of the Year.
As for Ohio State, they definitely looked the part of a Final Four contender today. A few conference slipups on the road does not the change the fact that this team has the talent to go all the way. They lead the country in rebounding margin, and if they play defense like this more consistently, the Buckeyes will be one scary team come March.
By David Schuman