If the Ohio State Buckeyes felt any added pressure to recently becoming one of the top-ranked teams in the country, they certainly did not show it against Bryant University.
The No. 3 Buckeyes (9-0, 0-0), led by a stellar effort from senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., dominated Bryant (6-5, 0-0) from start to finish, winning 86-48 Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center.
“That was one of the things we talked about in shootaround and really coming out of the Central Connecticut State game. Trying to sustain intensity, trying to sustain effort, keep the focus on the things we need to get better at,” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the win. “I thought we did a pretty decent job with that.”
Smith Jr. opened the contest by swooping to the hoop for a score on the game’s first possession, and he — and his team — never looked back.
Solid ball movement, timely shooting and an advantage in size against the Bulldogs allowed OSU to shoot 53.6 percent from the field in the first half, as Smith Jr. scored 12 points in the opening 20 minutes to help his team to a 43-23 lead at the break.
“As a senior, I put a lot of work into my game offensively over the summer and my confidence is off the chart,” Smith Jr. said after the win. “My teammates are able to find me wide open. A lot of teams, for some reason, teams are helping off of me and I’m able to get great looks at the basket.”
Matta said he thinks the senior is “playing at a very, very high level” so far this season.
“He’s a really good demeanor about him in terms of being a senior and knowing that this is kind of (his) last crack at it,” Matta said. “I love the way he’s playing right now … the fact that he’s shooting the ball the way he is makes us a better basketball team.”
Each of the 10 players who saw action Wednesday night scored, as Smith Jr. and junior center Amir Williams led the way with 19 and 12 points, respectively. The Buckeyes finished shooting 52.5 percent for the game, including 40 percent from three.
“We’re making great finds, we’re reading each other, we have great guards on the perimeter,” Smith Jr. said about the offensive output. “We’re able to attack the defense on every side and penetrate and kick the ball out. Our offensive shooting has increased over these past three or four games. We just want to keep rolling.”
Bryant coach Tim O’Shea was not short of good things to say about OSU after the game, stating that the Buckeye team has the potential to contend for the national title.
“We’re a good team, we’re going to contend for a championship in our league. They’re going to contend for a national championship,” O’Shea said. “Just athletically, they’re an extraordinary bunch … This is the best of the best. There are few teams in the country that’ll contend for the national championship legitimately and Ohio State is one of them.”
The final player to enter the game for the Buckeyes was junior forward Jake Lorbach, a walk-on who hit all three shots he took from the field, punctuated by a breakaway dunk that brought a multitude of cheers from his teammates on the bench.
“He works on those moves all the time in practice so we weren’t surprised when he made those shots,” junior center Amir Williams said about Lorbach after the game, then raising his hand jokingly after he and Smith Jr. were asked if they were worried about losing their starting spots. “He did look good. I got to take lessons from him from now on.”
Even Matta was impressed with Lorbach’s efforts.
“I’m happy for Jake, the ball went in for him. He’s been in this program now for a year and a half. Every single day he comes in, he works. Those moves that he made, he’s working them every single day,” Matta said. “That is exciting for him and it’s exciting for the guys because they know how hard he works.”
From the starting five all the way to the end of the bench, the Buckeyes took care of business Wednesday.
“For our guys, they had great respect for Bryant and knowing the caliber of basketball team they are. I thought we did a good job of sticking with the focus that we needed to,” Matta said.
OSU is next scheduled to take on North Dakota State Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.