“Did you know...it was all going to go so wrong for you. And did you see it was all going to be so right for me” – Pink Floyd, Poles Apart
In the wake of Ohio State’s run to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes saved their best game for their archrivals from up north. It didn’t result in a victory, but it just might provide the shooting confidence this team needs entering the big dance.
The three games in the B1G tourney in Indianapolis illustrated how two Buckeye guards are currently heading in opposite directions as the most important games of the year approach.
Junior point guard Shannon Scott exploded with one of his best career performances — if not the very best — in the semifinal loss to Michigan. Scott tied a career high with 18 points on 7/10 shooting on Saturday afternoon, adding five rebounds, six assist and three steals. He also torched the Wolverines from the arc, hitting 4/6 from range.
This was the apex of a three-game arc for Scott that saw him start the tournament making four of his first seven shots against Purdue and Nebraska. In all the Alpharetta, Ga., native shot 65% from the floor during the Big Ten tournament.
Scott showed remarkable improvement over his regular season numbers over the three days, while serving up 13 assists and adding five steals. He even hit 5/9 from distance (56%), giving the Buckeyes perhaps their only reliable long-range bomber.
To say Scott’s performance in the tournament was a surprise would be an understatement. He had previously been an offensive liability for much of the year.
"I've just got to learn to stay aggressive on offense at all times," Scott said.
He was aggressive over the last two games, particularly on Saturday. Scott showed no hesitation and looked confident on pull-up jumpers and spot-up threes. If he can play like that from now on and add some finishing touch on contested layups, he’ll become the player Thad Matta envisioned when he recruited him out of Georgia.
Meanwhile, senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. went the other way.
The Illinois native scored only six points over the final two tournament games and 15 total points over the three days for a 5-point average —less than half his regular season average.
But what’s worse is that Smith was a volume shooter with those paltry totals. He went 4/18 (22%) from the floor and just 2/12 (17%) from the three-point line.
Clearly the senior’s confidence is at its nadir. This was evident in the final minutes of the narrow loss to Michigan, when he passed up an open triple from the top of the circle and dished off to a teammate.
Smith sat much of Friday’s game against Nebraska while Amedeo Della Valle provided some rare heroics off the bench. When he played, he added nothing much offensively (three points).
That’s not to say Smith wasn’t able to contribute at all in the tournament. He did pull down 13 rebounds with seven steals and two blocks, providing another solid defender on the floor for Matta.
Whether this is a trend that will continue or if Scott and Smith are caught in some Freaky Friday-esque body swap remains to be seen. Ohio State cannot compete with Smith on the floor if he continues to be colder than Frank Underwood in House of Cards.
If Smith can regain his average form and Scott continues to trend upward, the Buckeyes might just muster a run in the NCAA tournament. But if it’s Scott who reverts to his average and Smith whose trend continues, Ohio State will be out of the big dance before things can even get interesting.