COLUMBUS: Call him a Lenzelle-of-all-trades.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 17 points and had a career-high 12 rebounds as No. 4 Ohio State flexed its muscles inside to beat No. 20 Michigan 64-49 on Sunday, keeping the Buckeyes in a first-place tie in the Big Ten.
“Quite honestly, with this team we sort of need a jack-of-all-trades,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.
“There’s so many times where a team is going to choose to guard us a certain way or scheme a certain defense. He is really understanding his role. The energy-type plays that he made today was definitely something that gave us a spurt and a boost of energy.”
On a day when Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger was limited by foul trouble and his teammates didn’t hit a whole lot of shots, Smith’s hard work on the boards and on defense meant the world to the Buckeyes (19-3, 7-2).
How good was Smith? His eight offensive rebounds were just two fewer than all the Wolverines’ (16-6, 6-3). They resulted in 13 points and five free throws — enough to tilt the game in the favor of the two-time defending Big Ten champions.
“That’s big-game ‘L’ for you,” Sullinger said of Smith’s huge games against Indiana (28 points) and now Michigan. “When Lenzelle’s rebounding the ball and he’s in tune with the defense, he’s pretty darned good.”
Sullinger had 13 points and William Buford and Deshaun Thomas both had 12 for Ohio State, which ran its winning streak over its archrival to six in a row.
By the end of the game, a capacity crowd of 18,809 was singing, We Don’t Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan.
Wolverines coach John Beilein, whose team hosts the Buckeyes on Feb. 18, said his team will relish the rematch.
“It goes both ways, but we’ll be looking forward to that,” he said. “We circle every game on the calendar.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. had 15 points for the Wolverines. Trey Burke, the conference’s top freshman point guard, returned to his hometown to play for the first time against Sullinger, his former high school teammate, and finished with 13 points.
“Trey’s a great player,” said Ohio State counterpart Aaron Craft, who had seven points, four assists and three steals. “He’s one of those guys you want to have on your team. You know he’s going to be in attack mode all the whole game. It was definitely a great team effort on him.”
Leading by three points at halftime, the Buckeyes pulled away with a 14-2 run midway through the second half. Bookended by 3-pointers by Burke, most of the points came as a result of backdoor cuts or drives. It didn’t include a 3.
Buford, who was quiet throughout the first half, got it started with a driving layup. Later in the spurt he stepped in front of Burke’s cross-court pass and streaked the length of the court for a dunk that got a rise out of the crowd.
Smith scored twice in the run — a layup on an assist from Buford and a short baseline jumper.
Down 48-35, the Wolverines drew as close as 50-43 on an inside basket by Jordan Morgan.
Morgan then stole the ball from Sullinger and grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed 3. But as Morgan was bracing to go up for the follow, Craft darted in and stole the ball.
Craft fed Thomas for a basket at the other end and the lead never fell below eight points again.
“I was really impressed with Ohio today,” said Beilein, using a name frequently employed by Michigan football coach Brady Hoke that grates Ohio State fans. “Their defense was really suffocating at times.”
The Wolverines fell to 1-5 on opponents’ home courts while the Buckeyes stretched their homecourt winning streak to 38, the second-longest in the program’s 100 years.
Sullinger was asked if he were excited that the Buckeyes had solidified their place in the Big Ten standings.
“Game on Saturday against Wisconsin,” he said firmly. “That’s the biggest focus right now.”