EVANSTON, Ill. -- Welcome home, Lenzelle Smith Jr..
Having reached double-digit scoring just once in No. 16 Ohio State's (21-7, 11-5) past five games, the Buckeyes guard rediscovered his shot on Thursday while playing just an hour away from his hometown of Zion, Ill., scoring 24 points in OSU's 63-53 win over Northwestern (13-16, 4-12).
With Buckeyes other than Smith combining for a 14-of-36 shooting performance, Ohio State needed the extra effort from its junior guard to put away a pesky Wildcats team that has a history of playing the Buckeyes tough. Smith got it going early, scoring nine of OSU's first 11 points, connecting on three consecutive 3-point shots in the game's first three minutes.
The Buckeyes' second leading scorer on the season, Smith helped set the pace for a 17-5 OSU run, that helped the Buckeyes jump out to a 22-10 lead. Northwestern, however, refused to let the game get away, answering with an 8-2 run of its own, before Ohio State took a 29-22 lead into halftime behind 14 points from Smith.
And as hard as it is to believe, the second half only saw the Buckeyes lean on their junior guard even harder.
Smith opened up the period with four consecutive points on a quartet of free throws, before the Wildcats went on a 19-7 run to take a 41-40 lead over OSU with 10 minutes remaining in the game. The two teams traded leads for the next six minutes, with a Reggie Hearn three-point jumper giving Northwestern a 49-48 advantage.
The Wildcats lead, however, proved to be short lived, when Smith answered back with a three-pointer of his own to give the Buckeyes the final advantage of the game. OSU closed out the game on a 15-5 run, to escape Evanston with a close call victory.
Guard Tre Demps led Northwestern in scoring with 14 points, while Dave Sobolewski added 13 points to the Wildcats' cause. After struggling with his shot early on, Deshaun Thomas scored 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting, while no other Buckeye aside from Smith topped five points on the night.
With the win, Ohio State moves to just a game and a half behind Indiana for the lead in the Big Ten standings entering the final week of the conference's regular season. The Buckeyes return to action on Tuesday when they'll head to Bloomington, Ind. for a 9 p.m. tipoff with the Hoosiers.