Late Defensive Surge and a Season-High 24 Points from Smith Jr. Push Buckeyes Past Northwestern

By Kyle Rowland on February 28, 2013 at 8:56p
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored a season-high 24 points for Ohio State against Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. – In a week when being a favorite meant walking the plank, Ohio State came out on top. But it’s never easy in Evanston. Thursday night was no different, as they overcame a second-half deficit to win, 63-53.

The 16th-ranked Buckeyes made everything in the first 10 minutes of the game, roaring out to a 12-point lead. Lenzelle Smith Jr., who grew up less than an hour from Northwestern’s campus, led the charge with four 3s – more points than he had in two games all of last week. But Ohio State scored just nine points in the final nine minutes of the first half to allow the Wildcats to hang around, trailing 29-22.

When Northwestern converted its first four field goal attempts in the second half, it was game on. The Wildcats lost narrowly the past two times Ohio State came to Welsh-Ryan Arena, and despite being down to seven scholarship players three weeks ago, Northwestern nearly upset Ohio State in Columbus.

Entering Thursday, Northwestern had lost five straight, including the past three by a combined 80 points. That was all irrelevant, though, in the second half.

“Maybe they just have our card,” Smith said.

A 12-3 Northwestern run cut the advantage to two, with the Wildcats grabbing the lead midway through the second half. Helping Northwestern was four point-blank misses by the Buckeyes. Ohio State would trail twice, only to overcome the Northwestern barrage.

Ohio State never panicked, and its head coach was the ringleader.

“I was honestly thinking, 'hey, let’s score,'” said Thad Matta, on his mindset when Northwestern took the lead late in the second half.

The deciding factor was those final four minutes, when Ohio State closed the game on a 14-4 run. Northwestern had the Buckeyes on their heels, but like the game in Columbus, it couldn’t finish off the upset attempt.

“That last four-minute war is toughness time,” Smith said. “It’s drawing a line and telling each other, 'we’re going to get stops and help each other. We’re not going to let them score.' That’s what it ended up being. Everyone played with great confidence.”

Ohio State forced 15 turnovers for the game, turning them into 18 points.

“That was probably the difference,” Matta said.

Smith finished with a season-high 24 points, including six three-pointers, and six rebounds. Deshaun Thomas added 19 and seven.

“Playing in my home state, I saw a lot of familiar faces,” Smith said. “I wanted to come out with an edge, as some of my coaches tell me. Initially, I was trying to get rebounds. Luckily, I was making shots.“

Smith was 6 of 11 from long range after making only 5 of his previous 20 three-point attempts.

“Lenzelle was able to stretch the defense tonight,” Matta said. “That was something that we needed. We were trying to pick the pace up as much as we could.”

In the final 10 minutes, Matta went to a small lineup, with Thomas playing the 5, much like the Buckeyes did to corral Northwestern the first time the two teams played. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel did not play during the last stretch.

They combined to go 1 of 5 from the field with seven rebounds, one turnover and a serious tongue-lashing from Matta.

One major difference the second time around was Northwestern 7-footer Alex Olah’s presence. He was out with a concussion two weeks ago. Going against Williams and Ravenel, Olah was effective to the point that it created major disruptions for the Ohio State defense.

He finished with nine points, five rebounds and four assists.

Still, Matta didn’t think Ohio State’s defensive intensity was lacking.

“(Northwestern) played well,” he said. “We didn’t want to gamble and do what we did in Game 1 and over extend.”

With a low offensive firepower this season, grinding out victories has become the method of choice for Ohio State. It starts and ends with defense, and the final four minutes was the blueprint.

The Buckeyes got out on the perimeter and guarded Northwestern’s three-point shooters, when screens were set, help defense was close by and aggression that was missing for more than 30 minutes finally came into focus.

“That’s when were at our best – when everyone helps everybody,” Smith said. “That’s just the way we play basketball, and we usually win when we do that.”

Now Ohio State finds itself in the thick of another Big Ten championship race. They’re 1.5 games back, meaning three consecutive wins are needed. But a chance is all they ask for. More realistic now is a first-round bye.

Survive and advance is a popular basketball cliché at this time of the year, and that’s exactly what Ohio State did in a week when No. 1 Indiana and No. 4 Michigan each lost on the road as a favorite.

Matta might not know what the Big Ten standings indicate, but his players clearly do. 

“Yeah,” Smith said, when asked if he was aware of the topsy-turvy week. “That’s great for us, that’s great news. But I just want to keep winning with my team.”

Ironically, it was a loss that put Ohio State in the position it is in today. Ever since the 21-point defeat at Wisconsin that both humbled and embarrassed the Buckeyes, a corner has been turned.

Smith even hinted that rock bottom was needed for a directionless Ohio State team to find its way.

“It just goes to show you that if we don’t come to play and think we can walk on the court to win, it's not going to happen,” he said.



Comments Show All Comments

dubjayfootball90's picture

Great game, but I am very worried about our bigs. I just don't see them getting out of this ' funk ' before mmarch

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

ILbuckeyes's picture

I agree, and while it would be nice, we have gotten this far without them.  Hopefully we can get some intensity in big games (see Amir against Syracuse last year or Mich this year, or Evan against Mich St.  But if not we just have to try and survive without it.  

Enzo's picture

Unfortunately our bigs aren't in a funk, they just plain aren't any good. I'm not sure how Amir is even playing basketball. I could understand if he just wasn't getting the schemes, yet. But, he has zero skills around the basket. He can't even hold on to the ball, 9 times out of 10 he loses it before he even makes a move. Sometimes without any contact. Ravanelle has had some good games, but he's terribly inconsistent, and he has a hard time finishing at the rim.

jaxbuckeye's picture

come on man.  You are just not seeing the half full glass.  Amir might be reading this and we don't want him to get sad.  If we all let him know WE believe in him he will believe in himself.  Go Bucks!

mclovin's picture

I like the "don't be critical cause it might hurt the players' feelings" angle.   For all I know you could be making a very valid point. I find it highly unlikely that Amir Williams reads the comments section on eleven warriors but what the hell do I know.  Amir, if u r reading this, u don't suck. Ur hands are terrible and u appear listless when u shouldn't be listless.  I'm not giving up on u though, buddy, so hang in there!

oregonianbuckeye's picture

A couple of thoughts from the game tonight.
1) Props to Matta. Team was prepared for the 1-3-1, and made good adjustments against the 2-3. Re-focused team to get the ball into DT in the half court, which was key.
2) Nice to see L have such a nice game offensively. When he shoots like that, we are a different team. 
3) The other guy that had a great game was Scott. His defense was incredible. 
4) I liked going small. Since NW runs the Princeton offense, we could get away with playing DT at the 5 and Thompson at the 4. Nice adjustment, as Rav and Amir struggled to guard people on the perimeter and help the guards through screens.
5) I've said this for a couple of months now, but for this team to win, they need to create turnovers and score in the transition game. That was key tonight.
6) Playing at NW is always frustrating. A win is a win. Time to focus on IU.

ajbosu1's picture

Just finished watching on DVR. Was Lunardi on the call? Wow, he could not have been less happy with Bucks win. Even in my Scarlet colored world it was one sided. 
Anyway good to get the W, always a tough out. 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

So I guess we can go back to mocking M*chigan for losing to Penn State.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

buckeye4life050233's picture

it's so amazing that for a team that screens 10-12 times per possession that NW doesn't have more moving screen calls and yet for some reason it always gets called against evan ravenel or amir williams at least 1 time per game......

kr66osu's picture

at least we blew a lead and won instead of blowing a lead and losing like Michigan and IU did

thatlillefty's picture

Not a pretty game by any means, but my biggest gripe is with Craft.
After having his best game of the season offensively, he comes out and shoots the ball just 4 times in 38 minutes on the court. And he had many open looks. Why not build upon last weekend's success and work the long-range jump shot when it's open? If he starts knocking those down, then teams are forced to press and he'll have more opportunities to drive the ball to the rack... I dunno. Just seemed strange to me.
Amir Williams has got to start playing with some intensity or he might as well sit the bench in lieu of Ravs and Trey McDonald.
On a positive note: The team played great defense at times and came away with a number of steals. I thought Scott in particular was all over the place.
Only 2 more games to play til tourney time...

avail31678's picture

I missed the majority of the game, but I saw one play and can agree with you.  Craft drove and was about at the foul line, and jumped and hesitated like he might pass and then ultimately decided to shoot.  It wasn't SUPER ugly, but definitely didn't go in.
He just came off a recent huge scoring have some confidence man!  But, maybe he was told by coaches to not shoot much.  But I agree - when he can be "on" and make a jump shot or two, we could be a different team.  We continue to need some presence down low, but any team can use outside threats.

avail31678's picture

Anyone see, with roughly 7 mins left in the game, Ravenel got a rebound down low and maybe stepped out or got a foul called on him?  He was quickly taken out of the game and Matta was SCREAMING at him - I mean his face was RED. 
I had the sound down and was playing a game with my daughter (with one eye on the game when I could), so I don't know what the call was and exactly what happened. 
Can anyone tell me what Ravenel did that was so awful?  Just curious.  Thanks.
It's good to get a win on the road by a decent margin - I thought I read we had won the last 2 or 3 against NW by a total of like 4 points or something like that.  Wasn't super pretty, but different players are starting to have more good games, especially offensively.

ILbuckeyes's picture

After missing a layup in which he may have been fouled, he stepped out and slammed the ball while yelling at the ref.  Im assuming Matta didnt like to see this out of the only senior on the team, especially with only a 4 point lead

Timotheos's picture

Best thing was that the time turned it on when it mattered, unlike last year's games against Northwestern. Will be critical in March.a

Maestro's picture

Moving on.  ZERO post presence, but ZERO post presence needed to win that game.  Nice to see Lenzelle have a very good night finally.

vacuuming sucks

Buckeye Chuck's picture

Terrific game for Smith, but it makes you wonder why he can't be even half this good on a consistent basis. In B1G play, he's had more games where he's scored 6 points or less than he's had games in double figures. 
I like the way Scott fills the stat sheet without scoring much, though it would be nice if he'd start hitting at least 2/3 of his free throws. I have this sense that he's getting close to a breakthrough, but it might not happen this season.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

Enzo's picture

I'd be happy if Scott could make a layup. He had a break away layup at one point last night, and I was only about 50% sure he was going to make it.

mclovin's picture

If I were Matta, I would have Scott run from one side of the court to other practicing nothing but layups for the entire practice.  He is so good at getting to the rim for open layups but has zero touch.  I can't imagine how much more useful he would be to the team if he developed this skill.

DetroitBuckeye's picture

Man I can't believe that Thad starts this bum.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Hey, I am happy with the progress some player are making; I think LS Jr will eventually breakthrough, and do well against better opponents.  His long-range jumper is sorely needed on this team, and let's face it, when he's on, he's almost unstoppable.
However, I'd like to know of any big-men coming in next year?  I am very disappointed in Amir; he seems to have all the physical tools, but none of the desire?  I don't know.  And Rav is not the most skilled player, but at LEAST he plays with intensity, and really tries to play D.  I'd rather have him than Amir, starting. 
No matter what happens in the tourney, I am happy with this year.  I think we (as a fanbase) have over-estimated how good this team can be, after the exit of talent from last season.  I think we are at least one solid big-man, and one deadly 2-spot, from being a great team, again.  Ideally for a big, I'd like to see a player come in who has similar traits to Purdue's Hammond.

RedStorm45's picture

I don't get this "it's always tough to play against Northwestern" mentality.  They had lost their previous 3 or 4 games by 20 points a piece.  If we really are a top 4 or 5 team in the conference, why are we struggling to pull out 10 point wins?
No offense to Thad, but he sounds lost sometimes.  This is the 3rd or 4th time this season I've heard him after a game say something like "let's go score" or "I said let's draw up a play where we score."  Dude, you're 28 games into the season.  You have McDonald's All-Americans littered all over the roster and you have the B1G's leading scorer.  Why are you (and the staff) constantly struggling to find ways for the guys to score?  That's fine if you are, but openly announcing it every three games at your post game pressers?  Just seems to odd to me that he's basically saying "yeah, we can't score.  what can ya do about it?"

Enzo's picture

I personally think Thad's assistance aren't as good as in years past.

mclovin's picture

They can't score because he insists on playing lineups heavy on non-scorers.  I absolutely hate the Craft-Scott guard tandem.  Add to that our ineptitude at the 5 and we basically have 3 guys on the court that are not consistent scorers.  That makes it kind of easy for the defense, even if 1 of the 2 scorers is one of the best in college basketball.  I know that this lineup improves our defense (at least when the 2 guard that Craft or Scott has to guard is not taller than 6'2), but this team needs to learn how to score.  My biggest critique on Matta is that he finds a formula that works  and there after develops tunnel vision.   For example, there has been zero development this year with the team's offense.  There are multiple reasons for this, clearly, but one of them has to be that Matta will not consistently play a lineup that features a clearly defined point guard, a two guard who can score (admittedly, this is hard, but it certainly is not Craft or Scott), Ross, Thomas, and a 5.  Instead he rides this lineup with Craft and Scott that does nothing but handicap our offense.  I don't think that he should never put them both on the court at the same time; it's just not productive for the growth of this team and should be used much less frequently.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

He went to the small lineup last night because we weren't getting out over top of the screens to stop the three ball and when we anticipated, we got beat back door.  His attempt to go small came at the expense of offense, but did limit their 3 point looks and easy layups.  You should also recall that when we came out gangbusters in the first half, you saw players that you rarely see in the first half of B1G game.  In my opinion, he was trying to use this game to get other guys experience as well as rest some of the guys who have played a lot of minutes before we hit tournament time.  I do think that if Matta kept his starters in and kept the foot on the gas in the first half, the game would have been comfortable throughout.
Also, with respect to scoring, NW's defense is designed to give up the long shots.  It's not like we didn't have excellent looks all night, they fell early and not later in the game.  There was a point where we stopped working for our shots, mainly we passed the ball around the perimeter and took one of the first open looks we saw.  This is not Matta's fault, but moreso the players need to understand that they need to work for shoots all the time.  When the game got close, later in the second half, we stopped moving the ball strictly around the perimeter and looked to penetrate the zone using the dribble or via DT at the top of the key and got some good points then.  

Read my entire screen name....

mclovin's picture

I know my comment was entered under a recap of last night's game, so it's my fault that you thought I was talking about that game when I was actually referring more generally to the lineups Matta uses.   Obviously the smaller, quicker lineup will be advantageous at times, especially for teams like NW.  What I am sayinhg actually goes to your next point.  We have established that we can play defense to the point where we can compete at a high level.  What he have not established is a consistent scoring attack.  Craft, Scott, 3, 4, 5 is not going to do that, so why not try something new so that we can score with these high level teams that consistently beat us, so that we can go as far as possible in the tournament?  You say that he was playing different guys for that very reason, which is not something Matta has done very much of in the past, but if that's what his thinking was, I applaud him because you need to be prepared for a variety of scenarios come tournament time. 
Matta is not solely responsible for scoring droughts and inconsistencies, but because he is the coach and because he decides who is on the floor and who is not, he is always going to have something to do with the good times and the bad times.  He is a good coach and an improvement over pretty much anyone we have ever had, but he's not perfect.  He's not the best at making adjustments during a game and not the best at coaching offense.  I'll certainly take his shortcomings because of all the positives he brings to the table but I would expect to see a little growth out of him as a coach in areas where he has shown some deficiencies.  A commentor above said that Matta was complacent and fatalistic with the lack of scoring and I tend to agree.  Based on what I see, changes could be made that would foster more scoring, which will be essential for us to make it anywhere in the tournament.  

RBuck's picture

When Thad went 'small', Thomas was set about the foul line. He got 9 points and several offensive rebounds in that set. That's how they beat NW in the first game. Actually I'm surprised Matta didn't go 'small' earlier.

Long live the southend.

RedStorm45's picture

NW lost at Purdue 74-43, home against Wisconsin 69-41, and home against Illinois 62-41.  In between that we beat them 63-53 at their place and 69-59 at home.  Other teams have no problems holding them below 50 and beating them by 20+.  We can stop using this "it's tough to play NW" excuse.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I don't use that excuse. But there is something about NW playing OSU that generally equals a close game. I haven't been able to exactly pinpoint the reason. It's pretty ridiculous if you think about it. I just go in assuming the game will be close and OSU will pull it out at the end. 
I looked back at all the games OSU has played NW since Matta has been in Columbus, and although he's only lost once to NW*, there have been far more close games than big wins.
2004-2005: played once - OSU @ NW - OSU 65 NW 52
2005-2006: played twice - OSU @ NW - OSU 56 NW 53, NW @ OSU - OSU 61 NW 52
2006-2007: played twice - OSU @ NW - OSU 73 NW 41, NW @ OSU - OSU 59 NW 50
2007-2008: played twice - OSU @ NW - OSU 65 NW 47, NW@ OSU - OSU 62 NW 51
2008-2009: played twice - OSU @ NW - NW 72 OSU 69*, NW @ OSU - OSU 52 NW 47
2009-2010: played once - NW @ OSU - OSU 76 NW 56
2010-2011: played twice - OSU @ NW - OSU 58 NW 57, B1G Tourn. OSU 67 NW 61 (OT)
2011-2012: played twice - OSU @ NW - OSU 75 NW 73, NW @ OSU - OSU 87 NW 54
2012-2013: played twice - OSU @ NW - OSU 63 NW 53, NW @ OSU - OSU 69 NW 59

RedStorm45's picture

Like I said, no one else has any problems putting a beat down on them, even at their place.  Is that a reflection on Thad? I don't know.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Wow.. just wow.  Yea, let's fire Matta.  He's being "reflected upon" badly, because for some reason, our players can't hit the broad side of a barn at stretches during games (and especially against NWU)
Maybe he is a crappy recruiter.  In any case, let's fire him NOW, before my self-esteem goes any lower, because lord knows, it's all tied into Ohio State basketball, and how badly we beat opponents.  (Winning every game, of course, is a given)

mclovin's picture

No one is saying to fire Matta -- at least I hope they're not, because that would be stupid. Matta is a great coach but people are allowed to call him out for his imperfections and not be calling for his head.

jaxbuckeye's picture

Way to go Buckeyes!  I'm proud of you!  Way to hang in there and fight for that win on the road.  It doesn't matter what happens as long as you try hard.  Hang in there Amir.  We believe in you big guy!  You'll always be McDonald's All American to me!  I hope each and every one of you are reading this thread and can feel this BIG hug I am giving to you!  Go Bucks!