Smith has been a breakout star so far this season for Ohio State
Bring up No. 3 Ohio State and the talk usually turns quickly to point guard Aaron Craft. The senior is the most recognizable name on the team, a preseason All-Big Ten player who recently set a prestigious school record.
There’s usually little discussion about Craft’s backcourt mate, fellow senior Lenzelle Smith Jr.
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Yet it is Smith who has been the team’s breakout star this season, leading the Buckeyes in scoring as they head in to Wednesday night’s home game against Delaware as part of the Gotham Classic.
Smith averaged 6.8 points while starting all 39 games his sophomore season and 9.2 in 37 starts last season, but he’s been asked to carry more of an offensive load this season.
So far, so good. Smith is averaging 13.4 points and shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from 3-point range, the latter of which leads the team.
“I put a lot of work into my game offensively over the summer. And my confidence is off the charts,” Smith said. “My teammates are stretching the defense and are able to find me wide open. A lot of teams, for some reason, are (not guarding) me and I’m getting great looks at the basket.
Smith did a little bit of everything as Ohio State improved to 10-0 on Saturday. He scored 18 points, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers, and had eight rebounds and four assists in the Buckeyes’ 79-62 win over North Dakota State.
Forward LaQuinton Ross also had 18 while reserves Marc Loving and Sam Thompson added 12 apiece.
“I was up all night a couple of nights ago trying to find a weakness,” Bison coach Saul Phillips said. “And then I realized they really don’t have a lot (of them).
“You know, in the coaches’ poll they only had one first-place vote. Guess who that first-place vote was. And that didn’t change my mind tonight.”
Craft scored just six points, but his seven assists gave him 581 for his career, passing Jamar Butler for the most in Ohio State history.
“Ever since I’ve been here I’ve had the easy job,” said Craft. “I’ve played with a lot of great players, a lot of great shooters, who have done the hard part. I just have to find those guys and put them in a great opportunity to score.”
With Craft leading the way, Ohio State is allowing just 54.6 points per game, second-fewest in the nation. The Buckeyes have won each game by double digits.
Delaware (5-5) didn’t fare nearly as well against the Bison on Monday, falling 85-66 in Fargo. The Blue Hens came in averaging 83.0 points, but shot just 39.7 percent and struggled despite the return of Devon Saddler.
Saddler had 24 points in his first game back after a seven-game suspension due to a violation of team rules.
“We were not sharp, and missed a lot of shots we normally make,” coach Monte Ross said. “… We got a bunch of good looks tonight, but just weren’t able to knock them down. Devon was excited to be back, and it showed in his play.”
Ohio State has won 46 consecutive home games against nonconference, unranked opponents, and is 2-0 all-time against Delaware.