Win over Indiana a springboard for Ohio State?
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For Ohio State, it was a revenge game and a redemption game.
For Indiana, it was a bad combination of wrong place and wrong time. And the Hoosiers leaving Lenzelle Smith Jr. open to shoot jump shots proved to be the wrong decision.
Smith, a first-year starter averaging 5.2 points per game coming, scored 28 on Sunday in what became a laugher, an 80-63 Ohio State victory that helped the Buckeyes erase the sting of New Year's Eve loss at Indiana and a puzzling loss last week at Illinois when Brandon Paul went for 43 points.
It was an assertive, thorough and necessary performance for the No. 5 Buckeyes, a team that holds itself to lofty standards and felt it had been playing more like a No. 25.
"This," National Player of the Year candidate Jared Sullinger said, "is exactly what we wanted."
The Buckeyes are very much alive and well. No. 8 Indiana kind of limped in after a Thursday night home loss to Minnesota and was totally overwhelmed almost from the start Sunday. Indiana's only lead was 2-0.
It was 35-14 at halftime, and Smith had 18 of those 35 -- not bad for a guy who missed practice Thursday and Friday due to strep throat.
"I got some great sleep and some chicken noodle soup," Smith said.
Whatever he took worked. Indiana double-teamed Sullinger and shaded towards Ohio State's other shooters. The Buckeyes kept feeding him -- Aaron Craft had 7 assists and no turnovers -- and Smith made 10 of 12 shots from the field, 4-of-5 3-pointers.
"That's kind of like a coach's dream because you're making them pay for the adjustment they're making," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
Even more than Smith's shooting, Ohio State played defense like a focused -- and angry -- contender. Matta joked that his team played the kind of swarming defense "I dream about at night."
"We gave these guys 17 layups in the first game," Sullinger said. "We decided not today."
It was a bit of a reality check for an Indiana team that has some impressive wins -- all on its home floor -- but now is in sixth place in the Big Ten. More than that, it was a reminder that a focused Ohio State team isn't going to lose to anybody on its home floor and is going to beat lots of teams on any floor.
"They could win the national championship," Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
The Buckeyes agree. Maybe Sunday's game can be their launching pad.
Crean dismissed the notion that his team caught the Buckeyes at the wrong time -- "we know how good they are, everybody does," Crean said -- and said it was a different game than the first, a 74-70 Indiana win. That and the Hoosiers' win over Kentucky raised the profile and the expectations.
This wasn't just a game Ohio State wanted badly. It's one the Buckeyes, last year's top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, are used to.
"Our kids haven't been there and have to learn what it takes to be there," Crean said. "(Ohio State) really got up into us. We let them be the aggressor and that set the tempo of the game."
Ohio State's defense and physicality were too much for Indiana. Smith's night will lead the highlights, but Sullinger (16 points, 9 rebounds), Craft, William Buford (12 points) and Deshaun Thomas (11) delivered typical performances. Maybe the Buckeyes were slumping. Maybe they've found themselves now.
"We were kind of playing with an edge coming off a loss," Craft said. "We (didn't like) going back and looking at the tape and seeing we weren't playing as hard as we could have been.
"I think we had some fun tonight."