Sullinger Shows Rust but Return Boosts Buckeyes
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — An hour before the Ohio State men’s basketball team tipped off against USC-Upstate, all signs pointed to sophomore Jared Sullinger making his return to the line-up after a two-game hiatus.
Dressed in a shooting shirt and game shorts, Sullinger looked like he was about to play for the first time in weeks as he rapped along to Kanye West and Jay-Z while practicing his moves in the post.
As tip-off neared, Sullinger continued to participate in the Buckeyes’ lay-up lines and it appeared that his return against the Spartans was inevitable. That was until Ohio State announced junior Evan Ravenel would be starting his third-consecutive game in place of the preseason All-American.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ravenel got out to a quick start, scoring the Buckeyes’ first five points, and it appeared that, for at least one night, Ohio State wouldn’t miss having its star forward in the line-up. But following the first media timeout at the 14:37 mark of first half, Sullinger, who had just been cleared to play by the OSU training staff hours before the game, shed his warm-up and entered the game for the Buckeyes.
Sullinger said it was his decision to come off the bench in his return to action Wednesday night at Value City Arena.
“Evan’s worked so hard in these past two weeks and just for me to get cleared this morning and didn’t really practice yesterday, it’s kind of unfair to Evan,” Sullinger said. “He deserved to start.”
Playing in his first game since suffering back spasms against Duke on Nov. 29, the sophomore forward showed clear signs of rust and at times looked more like a freshman than he did at any point last season. Sullinger missed his first shot attempt—a contested lay up—seconds before he grabbed an offensive rebound, only to miss his second attempt, which bounced off the rim.
After entering Wednesday’s game having converted 62 percent of his field goal attempts this season, Sullinger made just two of his six shots in the first half. He didn’t make his first shot from the field until the 4:49 mark of the first half, but still managed to tally eight points and five rebounds before intermission.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I was tired. Taking two weeks off is a killer,” Sullinger said. “Obviously today I was very, very out of shape.”
The Spartans took advantage of Sullinger’s slow start, going on a 14-3 run and gaining a four-point advantage over the Buckeyes. A Sullinger dunk with 2:44 left in the first half broke a 26-26 tie and jump-started an 11-2 run by the Buckeyes to finish the half.
While rust appeared to have affected Sullinger’s offensive game, the sophomore forward didn’t appear to have lost a step rebounding the ball. The reigning National Freshman of the Year pulled down 10 rebounds on Wednesday night, which, along with his 12 points, gave him his fifth double-double on the season and 23rd of his career.
“He had quiet production,” USC-Upstate coach Eddie Payne said. “Twelve and 10 and it didn’t seem like he didn’t do a whole lot.”
Sullinger’s teammates seemed to enjoy his presence on the court as the Buckeyes made 56.9 percent of their shots on their way to an 82-56 victory. In its two games without Sullinger this season, OSU failed to reach the 50 percent mark in field goal shooting.
“I don’t know how much (Sullinger) has to do with that, but obviously there might be a common denominator there,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.
For a coach who’s seen Greg Oden, David Lighty, and Evan Turner all miss extended playing time over the course of his OSU tenure, Matta said that he was just happy to see Sullinger back on the court.
“We have dealt with that far too often,” Matta said. “I know it’s going to be a process to get him back to where he’s playing, but for him to come out and get a double-double tonight was pretty impressive.”
Not to mention important.
Season Stats Year to Date
First Thoughts - by Tony Gerdeman