Ohio State's supporting cast a key factor against Syracuse

BOSTON – On paper, it’s a huge advantage for Syracuse.

The Orange have been touted as one of the deepest teams in the country all season, with a host of scoring options. On the other hand, Ohio State hasn’t relied much on its bench this season, and has basically been a four-man team of Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas.

If the Sweet 16 win over Cincinnati is any indication, though, Ohio State’s supporting cast will play a major role against Syracuse on Saturday night.

Starting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. knocked down three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points to provide a major boost against the Bearcats. With the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense providing openings on the perimeter, Smith will get shots.

“He’s the forgotten guy out there,” assistant coach Jeff Boals said. “It’s a dream for a wing to have DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger to demand attention. He did a good job making plays for us, knocking down shots.”

Smith, given his strength, is more of a defensive asset on the perimeter. On Thursday, though, he said he realized early on that he would have to step up on the offensive end, with Buford and Craft struggling offensively in the first half.

He had five points in the first 4:38, and then also had another five-point stretch in the second half that pushed Ohio State’s lead from five to 10.

“Normally I do the stuff behind the scenes. I have a tendency to overlook my shot,” Smith said. “Tonight, I knew it was offense. I had to take and make shots, create open shots for myself. I knew I had to come through.”

Smith wasn’t the only one who played a bigger role than usual on Thursday night. Freshman guard Shannon Scott gave the Buckeyes 16 quality minutes off the bench, including a crucial stretch late in the second half when Buford picked up his fourth foul and Ohio State was in a dangerous position.

With Scott – and Craft – in the game, the Buckeyes now had two ball-handlers on the court at the same time. Cincinnati was no longer getting turnovers and easy baskets.

“They couldn’t pressure us,” Scott said. “I knew I had to help us.”

On the defensive end, Scott’s length and lateral quickness also limited some of the open shots Cincinnati had been getting in the second half. The Buckeyes’ defensive rotations were a step slow, but Scott helped close out on the shooters.

“Coach Matta wanted me to be all over the place,” Scott said.

Against Syracuse, the Buckeyes will need to utilize depth again. The Orange have a number of players who can beat Ohio State defensively, from Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph to Dion Waiters and James Southerland. They can run bodies at Sullinger and also can plan their offense around whichever guard Craft is defending.

“They do a good job of shuttling guys in and out,” Boals said of Syracuse.

Boals pointed to the offensive-defensive substitutions Ohio State made late in the game, with freshman Sam Thompson using his length and athleticism for a few minutes in the second half. Evan Ravenel could also provide some bench support inside.

He said they might use Craft and Scott together more often, due to their ability to defend opposing backcourts and limit turnovers.

Scott realizes the supporting cast is going to need to step up once again.

“We’ve got to make plays,” he said. “Our chance is going to come.” 

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