Sullinger struggles in Buckeyes’ loss to Kansas

Jared Sullinger watched the final seconds tick off, pulled his

jersey over his head and half stumbled toward the sideline.

The dream of a national championship, the reason he returned to

Ohio State, was out of reach and it was hard for the big fella to

take.

Dominant early, Sullinger struggled in the second half against

Kansas’ long front line, hitting 5 of 19 shots in the Buckeyes’

64-62 loss in the Final Four Saturday night.

”Right now, I’m kind of speechless with the situation that just

went about,” Sullinger said with tears filling his eyes.

Sullinger didn’t play when Kansas beat Ohio State 78-67 on Dec.

10 because of back spasms.

With the hefty power forward back in the lineup, the Buckeyes

were supposed to have the upper hand inside.

Instead, Jayhawks center Jeff Withey harassed Sullinger

throughout the second half as Kansas rallied from a 13-point

deficit to earn a spot in Monday night’s national title game

against top-seeded Kentucky.

Sullinger, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, now has

to decide if he wants to come back to the Buckeyes again or head to

the NBA.

”Honestly, I don’t know,” Sullinger said of his plans. ”It’s

something I’ll take up with Coach and talk over with my family. I

really don’t know what the decision will be yet.”

Either way, this wasn’t the way he hoped the season would

end.

Sullinger was expected to bolt from Ohio State after being

selected first-team All-America as a freshman. Big, agile and with

good hands, he was projected as an NBA lottery pick, so the

assumption was that he was gone.

Sullinger surprised nearly everyone by deciding to return,

saying he wanted a shot at a national title after the Buckeyes were

bounced early from the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed last

year.

Sullinger did his part in putting the Buckeyes (31-8) in

position, earning All-America honors for the second straight season

while leading them into the Final Four.

He had been dominant at times in the NCAA tournament and was

good early against the Jayhawks, using his big backside to create

space down low. With Sullinger leading the way, the Buckeyes

bullied fellow No. 2 seed Kansas inside early, building a 26-13

lead that was still nine points by halftime.

Things quickly changed in the second half.

With Thomas Robinson asserting himself more offensively and

Sullinger struggling against Withey’s reach, Kansas (32-6) stormed

back, using a 13-4 run to tie the game at 49-all.

Sullinger tried to push back, but had a hard time finding any

room to maneuver inside. He had three shots blocked by Withey in

about a minute and had to alter several others around and over the

7-footer’s long arms.

”He was just playing hard, seemed like he stepped up his

defensive intensity,” Sullinger said of Withey, who had five of

his seven blocked shots in the second half. ”We had a chance to

control the game, but we didn’t.”

Things got even tougher for Sullinger when teammate Deshaun

Thomas went out with his fourth foul.

Ohio State’s game plan for attacking Kansas’ length inside

revolved around Thomas.

The Buckeyes’ leading scorer in the NCAA tournament, he can

score in a variety of ways and is a good shooter from the

perimeter.

When he was in the game, the Jayhawks weren’t able to collapse

on and help on Sullinger.

Once Thomas went out, Kansas was able to surround Ohio State’s

best player, surprising him with double teams that he couldn’t seem

to escape.

”When Deshaun wasn’t in there, they were able to sit guys on

him,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. ”We needed a stretcher

out there at that position. That just enabled them. It forced our

hand a little bit.”

The Buckeyes still had a shot, but they couldn’t get the shots

to fall.

Sullinger had two points over the final 6 minutes and Thomas

wasn’t much help after he returned, scoring nine points on 3-of-14

shooting.

So instead of moving on to play in the national championship

game, Sullinger was left to shuffle off the court and wonder what

might have been in his final game at Ohio State.

”Me shooting 5 for 19, that’s not a normal shooting day for me,

but sometimes it happens, the ball rolls that way,” Sullinger

said. ”We still had a chance to win this game, we just didn’t

execute.”