Sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. posted his first career double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, leading the No. 4 Buckeyes to a 64-49 victory Sunday afternoon over the No. 20 Wolverines.
"That's Big-Game L for you," Jared Sullinger said afterward. "He was just playing hard. He let the game come to him. He played pretty well."
Smith's stat line was impressive all the way around. The first-year starter was the difference maker for the second straight time the Buckeyes knocked off a ranked foe in Value City Arena, finishing 6 of 12 from the floor, making all five of his free throws, picking up eight offensive boards and not committing a turnover.
"I knew that was going to be our edge – rebounding and just doing the little things – so I stuck to that early," he said. "Normally we come in and we hit shots, but today we didn't make many shots so it was a better chance for me to get rebounds."
With the win, the Buckeyes (19-3) broke a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings, moving to 7-2 at the halfway point of the league schedule with a half-game lead on Michigan State.
"It beats second, I do know that," head coach Thad Matta said. "Turning the halfway point at 7-2, I like it."
The win – Ohio State's sixth in a row against the Maize and Blue – wasn't pretty for long stretches, as neither team had much of an offensive flow. But the Buckeyes were the better team in the second half, slowly but surely making a three-point halftime advantage into a double-digit win, OSU's fourth in a row in conference play.
Ohio State also ran its home winning streak to 38 and downed Michigan for the eighth time in a row in Value City Arena.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led Michigan with 15 points while Columbus native Trey Burke had 13 in his first appearance donning the visiting colors in Value City Arena. Michigan (16-6, 6-3) was held to its lowest point total of the season, shooting only 35.8 percent (19 for 53) from the floor.
"I don't know if it's just my imagination, but they just really are playing very good defense," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "The defense is really suffocating at times. It's difficult to score on them, and I think that's proven with everybody they've played."
Neither team was explosive in the early going, as the Buckeyes limped off to one of their slower starts of the season. The main positive was the play of Smith, who finished the first half with nine points and seven rebounds as Ohio State took a 24-21 lead into the break.
"I thought in the first half we were stagnant offensively," Matta said. "We didn't have a way about us, an attack about us. We wanted to try to push it."
The methodical Wolverines had designs on going the other direction and should have gotten a big help when Sullinger spent the last six minutes of the half on the bench with foul trouble, leaving Ohio State unable to exploit its size advantage. Michigan actually held a 19-15 lead with 5:15 left when Blake McLimans nailed a three-pointer, but the Buckeyes went on a 9-2 run to close the half.
Smith started the run with an offensive rebound and putback score, then Thomas split a pair of free throws. Smith scored in transition after the under-4 media timeout to give Ohio State the lead before Evan Ravenel split of a pair from the charity stripe to make the score 21-19.
Stu Douglass tied the game again at 21 with 1:31 left on a layup, but Ohio State set the halftime score with 1:05 left on the clock as Buford got his first points of the game and ended a 1-for-8 start from three-point land for the Buckeyes when he downed a trey.
Thomas started the second half with a jumper that gave OSU a 26-21 lead, but Hardaway quickly scored on the other side and Douglass nailed a three to tie the score at 26.
That was the last time the game was tied, as Aaron Craft hit a three on the Buckeyes' next possession that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. Ohio State pushed the lead to eight before Michigan countered with a 7-0 run capped by a three by Burke that made it 34-33, but that was a close as the Wolverines would get.
Ohio State scored on its next four possessions to extend the lead to nine – Buford, Smith, Buford and Craft getting the buckets chronologically – before the Buckeyes first extended the lead to double digits at 46-35 with 11:26 to play when Smith put in a driving bucket.
"With this team, we sort of need a jack of all trades," Matta said of Smith. "There's so many times where a team is going to choose to guard us a certain way or scheme or a certain defense, and I think that he is really understanding his role."
Michigan made one final run in the last 10 minutes, keeping the Buckeyes without points for a five-minute span while cutting the OSU lead to 50-43, but Thomas made a layup with 4:59 on the clock and Sullinger put down a thunderous slam in transition on the next possession to ice the contest.
Buford tied a season high with six turnovers. … Michigan didn't go to the foul line until Hardaway shot a pair with 2:33 to play. … Conversely, Ohio State was 15-18 from the line. … The Buckeyes made only 3 of 15 threes, tying its second-worst showing from beyond the arc on the year. … Craft finished with seven points, four assists and two turnovers. … Ohio State had 10 assists and 11 turnovers.