By Matt McCoy
Seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. hope they have more than just a few games left in their Buckeye careers.
Just when you thought the Buckeyes might be turning a corner, you get Thursday night. For the first time since Jim O'Brien's first year at Ohio State when the Buckeyes went 8-22, OSU is swept in a season series by the Nittany Lions, losing 65-63.
It was yet another stinging loss that this team has to quickly put in the rear view mirror because another road game, at Indiana, is coming up Sunday. The Hoosiers are riding high, coming off an upset of Iowa but it's a very winnable game for OSU against a young I.U. team that is just 6-9 in Big 10 play.
"If we've learned anything from this (Ohio State) team, it's that they can lose to anybody, anywhere," 610 WTVN basketball analyst Tony White said. "So I don't know if they're going to be able to beat Indiana on the road. They should be able to but it's going to depend on whether they can go out and make shots and turn defensive turnovers into offensive points."
To listen to my interview with Tony White on the state of the Buckeyes click here:
It would help to keep Aaron Craft on the floor. Foul trouble by Craft especially and Amir Williams to some extent, hindered the Buckeyes in Happy Valley but even with that, it was another game when Ohio State had plenty of chances. In fact it was the sixth of OSU's seven losses in which it held the lead in the second half.
In the late stages, the Buckeyes were in comeback mode and could have pulled it off. They had two excellent opportunities to win but could not convert. More specifically, senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. could not convert.
Twice in the final 12 seconds the ball wound up in Smith's hands, on the wing, with open 3-point shots...twice he missed. Smith finished with just five points and went 2-7 from the floor. All five of his misses were from 3-point range. Despite being open, some are wondering if Smith should have been the one to take those "game on the line" shots.
"You can't get better shots than the ones Lenzelle Smith had to win that basketball game," White said of the Buckeyes second leading scorer. "Thad Matta would take those (looks) every single time if he had the chance in a similar situation."
But it has not been a consistent senior year for Smith, who has been on a roller coaster offensively all season and lately, that hill has been on a steep decline. Since hitting 4-of-7 from 3-point range in a February 8 victory over Purdue, Smith has made just 6-of-26 from deep. That's 23 percent..and that's not good.
"I think Thad Matta has to (talk to) Lenzelle Smith, and he probably has, but he has to focus this kid on the fact that this is the last several weeks of his college basketball career," White said. "(Matta) has to try to get him to fight through the funk that he is in. He has no confidence right now but he has to leave that behind and just play."
Can Smith find his shot now that the calendar is flipping to March? If he does, his career might be extended. If not, you can probably count the number of games he has left on one hand.