Cooke has 21 in South Carolina’s 74-66 loss

South Carolina’s Malik Cooke is grateful for sentiment, and

tired of the situation.

Cooke graciously accepted Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s wishes

and words of encouragement following the second-ranked Buckeyes’

74-66 victory over the Gamecocks on Saturday.

The fifth-year senior wishes he and his teammates got more

congratulation and less consolation.

Matta’s words were very humbling, Cooke said. ”At the same

time, we’re still trying to win now,” he continued. ”I thank him

for him his comments. We are trying to turn that corner here and I

think we’re right on the verge of doing so.”

Cooke led the Gamecocks (4-6) with 21 points and picked up a

nasty gash over his left eye in the second half. He spent several

minutes having the cut glued shut, a stretch when Ohio State took

advantage and built a 61-50 lead.

Cooke, the team’s only senior, wasn’t there to steady the

players as he did through much of what had been a tightly contested


”Our guys didn’t have the same look” after Cooke left,

Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said.

Deshaun Thomas scored a career-high 30 points to lead Ohio

State, who saw star forward Jared Sullinger leave with a foot

injury in the first half.

Thomas started a crucial 20-8 run with a jumper. Lenzelle Smith

Jr. had a basket and a 3-pointer to put Ohio State in front for

good, 41-37. Thomas added a 3-pointer and finished the surge with a

short jump shot for a 49-43 lead.

The Buckeyes eventually built the lead to 11 points.

”Obviously, very happy with a road win,” Matta said.

He’s also happy about his place in Ohio State history with his

200th victory as Buckeyes coach. Matta, 200-58 at the school,

joined Fred Taylor (279 wins 1959-76) and Harold G. Olsen (254 from


Matta did not know if Sullinger would be ready for Lamar on

Tuesday night. But even if Sullinger can’t go, Thomas showed he’s

more than ready to lead Ohio State (10-1). The 6-foot-7 sophomore

hit 13 of 16 shots and surpassed his previous high of 24 points set

last season against North Carolina A&T.

South Carolina’s Horn said he was more worried about Buford’s

outside touch coming in and tailored the defense to let Thomas, a

51 percent shooter on the season, wind up with the ball more


”We put him in position by design to make those plays and to

his credit, he made them,” Horn said.

South Carolina cut things to 70-63 in the in the final minute.

But William Buford answered with a 3-pointer with 48.2 seconds to

go to restore Ohio State’s edge.

Ohio State figured to roll over a troubled Gamecocks club that

had already lost to Elon and Tennessee State. Things started to

change for the Buckeyes when Sullinger came up limping after

getting kicked in the left foot on an early possession.

Trainers spent several minutes working on Sullinger’s foot on

the bench before he put his sneaker back on, talked with Matta and

returned to action. But Sullinger was limping badly moments later

after defending Carlton Geathers’ drive with 10 minutes to go.

”We knew we had to pick it up defensively and offensively when

Sullinger went out,” Buford said. ”We weren’t playing to our

basketball, playing to our level. We had great leaders and that

helped us pick it up.”

Ohio State was up 18-11 after Buford hit a 3-pointer and made a

breakaway basket off a South Carolina miss.

The Gamecocks, though, closed the half with a 22-11 run to lead

33-29 at the break. Malik Cooke had 10 points in the half,

including a pair of baskets in the final two minutes as the

Gamecocks moved in front.

South Carolina was also helped by a technical foul on Ohio

State’s Amir Williams, who taunted R.J. Slawson after a bucket.

The Buckeyes had hoped to build on the momentum with Sullinger

back for his second straight game. He had missed two games with

back spasms, including Ohio State’s only loss of the season, 78-67,

at Kansas last Saturday.

Earlier this week, Sullinger looked like his smooth, confident

self with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes of action in an

82-58 win at USC Upstate on Wednesday.

Results of the X-rays showed no fracture in the foot. Still,

team spokesman Dan Wallenberg said it was too soon to know when

Sullinger might play again. Ohio State faces Lamar on Tuesday and

Miami of Ohio on Thursday before opening Big Ten Conference play

against Northwestern on Dec. 28.