In a season in which Ohio State's struggles to score the basketball left many fans infuriated from game to game, perhaps no player drew more ire from the scarlet and grey faithful than Lenzelle Smith Jr. In his final season in Columbus, Smith was as streaky as ever with his shot, and largely failed to provide the second scoring option the Buckeyes so sorely needed in Big Ten play. Still, the 6'4 wing from Zion, IL departs the program having been a part of 119 wins, and leaves a legacy far more positive than negative. Let's take a closer look at Smith's final campaign.
Previous Season Stats: 9.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 27.4 Minutes, .374 3FG%
Current Season Stats: 11.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 28.8 Minutes, .331 3FG%
The hope entering the season was that Smith would remain steady and start every game for the third consecutive year, teaming with Aaron Craft to provide senior leadership. It was also hoped that LaQuinton Ross would claim the mantle of the team's go-to scorer, and that a secondary offensive option would emerge, allowing Smith to carry less of a scoring burden and affording him a better opportunity to focus on the little things he does so well on defense and on the boards. As we wrote in October, thinking of a best-case scenario:
Lenzelle isn't asked to do quite as much on the offensive end, which erases some of the inconsistencies of last year. With more options on offense, Lenzelle doesn't have to force his shot quite as much, which allows the offense to come to him more naturally, and he creeps over 40% shooting from behind the arc. He gives the Buckeyes the same grit and toughness on the defensive end that we've seen from him the last couple years, and helps Ohio State form one of the best perimeter defenses in the country.
Ohio State's perimeter defense was among the premier units in the country, and Smith contributed greatly to that. The team's lack of a clear-cut second scorer behind Ross, though, led the senior to shoulder more than was ideal, and his streakiness manifested itself in slight declines in both field goal and three-point shooting percentages.
Best Game: During the non-conference schedule, Smith had his shot working, leading the team in scoring and boasting nine double-digit efforts. Still, the performance most likely to be remembered came against Notre Dame in Madison Square Garden. With the Buckeyes trailing the Irish 58-50 with just under a minute to play and Smith scoreless, the senior put the team on his back, scoring nine points – including seven in the final 33 seconds - to lead Ohio State back for an improbable 64-61 victory.
Worst Game: Unfortunately, there are a few games to choose from, as Smith really struggled with his consistency once the calendar page turned and the Big Ten schedule got underway. He logged a season-low two points on 1-7 shooting in a 59-58 victory at Wisconsin, but did contribute 10 rebounds. Where Smith's struggles really came to a head was in the conference tournament. In back-to-back games against Nebraska and Michigan, the senior scored a meager three points per contest, and found himself on the bench during crunchtime. Smith was also a non-factor in Ohio State's loss to Dayton in the NCAA Tournament, logging just six points and three boards.
The Skinny: While Smith was put in the position of being relied on as more of an offensive weapon than his game warranted, he did provide the team with stout perimeter defense and a healthy rebounding average from his wing position. Ideally, the senior would have been the third or fourth scoring option, and would have shot the ball more consistently, particularly from the three-point line. When it's all said and done, though, Smith started every game for Thad Matta for three consecutive seasons, and leaves Ohio State as one of the winningest players in program history.
The Prognosis: Considering the difficulty previous Ohio State wing players have had in cracking the NBA, particularly the likes of David Lighty and William Buford, it seems unlikely that Smith will find himself on an NBA roster come the fall. Much more likely is that he will follow in his predecessors' footsteps to Europe or the D-League. Given his defensive ability and athleticism, Smith should be able to enjoy a nice career. This season's disappointments notwithstanding, he is a winner with Final Four experience and Big Ten championships, and along with Craft, leaves a fine legacy with the Buckeyes.