Upstart Upstate Can’t Upstage Sullinger’s Return
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jared Sullinger did not quite look like himself Wednesday night, but Ohio State’s star sophomore still gave the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes 12 points and 10 rebounds in their 82-58 win over South Carolina-Upstate.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The important part was that Sullinger played for the first time since injuring his back before Ohio State’s 22-point win over Duke back on Nov. 29.
“Fortunately we were able to get him in and get him back into it because he hadn’t done that before,” OSU Head Coach Thad Matta said.
“It had been two weeks since he had played.”
Sullinger warmed up with his teammates before the game—something he did not do at Kansas—but did not start the game after being cleared following this morning’s shoot around.
Instead the Buckeyes (9-1) went with junior Evan Ravenel, a transfer from Boston College who had started the last two games in place of Sullinger. The decision to bring Sullinger off the bench was ultimately Matta’s but it came with a little nudging from his star big man.
“That was actually my decision,” Sullinger said after the game.
“Evan worked so hard these past two weeks, for me to get cleared this morning after not really practicing yesterday, it’s kind of unfair to evan. He deserved to start.”
Ravenel score nine points in 12 minutes, but Matta was quick to bring Sullinger off the bench at the 14:37 mark of the first half. The Buckeyes held a 12-5 lead when he entered the game for the first time in two weeks, but the Spartans (6-5) quickly went on a 10-2 run to take a 15-14 lead with 10:33 to play in the first half.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sophomore Torrey Craig knocked down a free throw and connected on a pair of threes to give upstart USC-Upstate a 4-point lead with under nine minutes to play in the first half. That is when Matta looked down his bench for 6-8 freshman Sam Thompson.
“When he called my name, I just wanted to get in there and do what he asked me to do,” said Thompson, a freakishly athletic wing out of Chicago.
“No. 23, I think at that point had scored (seven) straight points. I wanted to get in there and make it difficult for him. Use my length and athleticism.”
Almost immediately, Thompson swatted a three-point attempt by Craig, which brought the 13,552 in attendance to their feat at Value City Arena. It wouldn’t be the last time. Thompson also threw down a pair of highlight real dunks and finished with eight points, two assists and two blocks.
The Buckeyes recaptured the lead on a layup by Sullinger, who scored his first basket of the night on a putback off an offensive rebound at the 4:49 mark of the first half.
“I felt terrible tonight,” Sullinger said when asked about his conditioning.
“I was tired. Taking two weeks off is a killer. I tried to do some stuff like underwater treadmill to get my wind back, but obviously today I was very, very out of shape.”
Ohio State got a few big threes from William Buford, and Ravenel threw down a 2-handed dunk to close out the first half with the Buckeyes leading 37-28. Sullinger started the second half, and the Buckeyes quickly pushed their lead to 12 on a layup by Deshaun Thomas at the 16:25 mark.
It was Thomas who really carried the Buckeyes for most of the night. The sophomore out of Fort Wayne, Indiana scored a game-high 23 points in 33 minutes to go with three assists and a pair of rebounds. He was 10-of-15 from the floor and 2-of-5 behind the arc.
“If Deshaun hadn’t shot so well, maybe we would have been in a better position,” USC Upstate coach Eddie Payne said.
“He really hurt us with the jump shots.”
Ohio State’s lead would go to 16 on a three by Thomas at the 10:49 mark and Thompson immediately followed with a big dunk off an assist from Thomas, who may have played his best overall game as a Buckeye.
The Buckeyes were out-rebounded 30-22, but they forced the Spartans into 25 turnovers (against seven assists). They also shot 57 percent from the floor, which was one of the things Matta was most pleased with after the game.
“Truth be told, I threatened them in a positive tone that we need to shoot well over 50 percent tonight,” Matta said with a smirk.
“I think they were relieved we did do that. I don’t know how much (Sullinger) has to do with it, but obviously there may be a common denominator there.”
Sullinger was wearing an ice pack on his lower back after the game, but said he felt fine. He was going to get some sleep tonight, but the important thing for him was continuing to rehab the deep muscles in his core.
He will only have three days before the Buckeyes take the court against the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Season Stats Year to Date
First Thoughts - by Tony Gerdeman
Sullinger Shows Rust but Boosts Buckeyes - by Ben Axelrod
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