Smith Coming On As A Scorer

The Ohio State basketball team has a myriad of scorers in its starting lineup, but Lenzelle Smith Jr. wasn't considered one of them. After his performances in Boston, though, Smith has Ohio State looking as dangerous as ever.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. knows he hasn't been an offensive threat for the Ohio State basketball team all season. If it were quantified in a number, it would be 6.8 – the average scoring output he provided the Buckeyes during the Big Ten Conference schedule.

When the ball is in Smith's hands, he looks straight ahead to see All-American sophomore big man Jared Sullinger. To his left stands senior William Buford. And to his right, there's shot-hungry sophomore Deshaun Thomas.

"My role most of the time was to pass them the ball," Smith told BSB.

It's a rational thought process given all three of those options have been lethal scoring threats for Ohio State during a regular season where the Buckeyes earned a share of the Big Ten regular season title for the third consecutive year.

March Madness must be the time for trends to break. If not, it has been an opportunity for Smith to step up in moments when his team needs him the most, even if it means delivering in areas he hasn't typically been counted on to provide support.

"It's not like he can't score," Thomas said of Smith. "We just have a lot of options on our offense right now and sometimes the things he doesn't don't always lead to him scoring. When he gets going, though, he's just as dangerous as the rest of us."

Smith acknowledged being passed over for shots has been frustrating at times, but he has always been able to stay true to his role.

"I just kind of do what I do," Smith said. "I think sacrificing your personal intentions for the betterment of the team is great. That's the type of teammates we need and the type of guy I am."

Here Ohio State stands – in New Orleans two wins away from capturing its first national championship since 1960. The second-seeded Buckeyes, however, likely wouldn't be in the Big Easy if it weren't for big offensive performances out of Smith.

By halftime of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional final against top-seeded Syracuse last Saturday, Smith had more stitches (four) above his eye than points scored (two).

A cut above his right eye after a collision with Orange guard Brandon Triche only minutes into the game could only be repaired by a painful stitching process that kept him out for five minutes. As he sat in the locker room in a tie game with Syracuse, Smith's eyesight was blurry but his vision for the role he needed to play never wavered.

Sixteen points later – including multiple big shots down the stretch in the Buckeyes' 77-70 Elite Eight win over the Orange in Boston's TD Garden on March 24 – the sophomore shooting guard was one of the top reasons Ohio State is packing its bags for the Final Four in New Orleans.

In the Sweet 16, Smith became one of Ohio State's top offensive options. He scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in Ohio State's 81-66 win over Cincinnati on March 22 and followed two days later with his big second- half performance against Syracuse.

More impressive than Smith's point totals were the situations in which he was able to knock down shots. He knocked down a crucial triple against Syracuse with 7:11 remaining in the game to extend Ohio State's lead to four at 55-51.

Later, he added a jumper with 3:15 remaining in the contest to push his team's advantage to 62-55, a shot that really made it tough for the Orange to stay within striking distance.

"We're always looking for clutch shooters," Thomas said. "Lenzelle has been really clutch for his and he showed (in the Syracuse win) that he isn't afraid to take and make big shots. He was huge for us."

The Orange followed the blueprint to beat Ohio State. Syracuse got the Buckeyes in foul trouble – both Sullinger and junior Evan Ravenel picked up two whistles in the first half – and Buford didn't play particularly well.

Given Syracuse was one of the best teams in college basketball – they were 34-2 before falling to the Buckeyes in the Elite Eight – the Orange would probably have liked their chances if told before the game that Sullinger would be a nonfactor in the opening 20 minutes.

But it didn't matter. Ohio State got contributions from myriad players, most importantly from Smith and seldom-used freshman big man Amir Williams.

Now when Final Four opponent Kansas turns on the film, the game plan for stopping the Buckeyes won't be quite as cut and dry. Ohio State is deeper, it is confident and it is getting contributions from players who were often afterthoughts during the regular season.

"I do a lot of things that sometimes don't get noticed, like playing defense and setting up my teammates with good shots," Smith said. "I like that role, but recently the coaches have turned to me to shoot the ball and they're confident in me. I am really confident in myself and I think I can help this team in a lot of different ways."

If Smith continues the offensive onslaught, the Buckeyes could be playing on Monday.

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