Inside presence makes Buckeyes hard to guard

Thad Matta knows how lucky he is.

Most major colleges wish they had a big guy like Jared

Sullinger, someone who can score inside, draw fouls, rebound and

pass.

”Every coach in the country would like to have a solid,

low-post player,” Matta said on Monday.

The 6-foot-9 Sullinger is a nightmare to defend, as Wisconsin’s

Bo Ryan well knows. Ryan had his Badgers guard Sullinger one-on-one

on Saturday and Sullinger made him pay for that decision. He scored

24 points and had 10 rebounds to go with three steals in the

third-ranked Buckeyes’ 58-52 win over the 19th-ranked Badgers.

Some fans might see that Ohio State (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) hit just

one 3-pointer and look at it as a negative. But that was more of a

reflection of how effective Sullinger was in the paint.

A year ago, the Buckeyes won their second straight conference

title and went 34-3. They had just about every weapon a team could

want: 3-point specialist Jon Diebler, gritty freshman point guard

Aaron Craft, swing guard David Lighty, sweet-shooting guard William

Buford, defensive post man Dallas Lauderdale and Sullinger.

This year, after Diebler, Lighty and Lauderdale graduated, the

Ohio State offense has made adjustments, although Sullinger is

still the first option.

”The offense last year was more we could have just stood there

and knocked down 3s,” Sullinger said. ”This year we’re a little

bit more athletic. We’re slashing a little bit more. Honestly, in

this offense we kind of know what we’ve got to do to score. When we

play inside-out or even driving the basketball, we’re very hard to

guard.”

Sullinger is the biggest reason. Double down on him and he’ll

quickly reverse the pass to an open teammate for a bucket. Play him

with one defender and the physical sophomore will use his body for

leverage inside and force fouls.

”I know that when you give him the ball, the whole defense is

going to come and trap down on him,” said freshman point guard

Shannon Scott, the son of former NBA and North Carolina star

Charlie Scott. ”I feel like when we get him the ball, it’s going

to open it up for everybody else. We can play through him.”

Sullinger, who shares the current Big Ten player of the week

honors, is averaging 17.4 points (fourth best in the conference)

and 9.1 rebounds (second in Big Ten play).

He’ll be a marked man when the Buckeyes, who have won their last

five games to grab the top spot in the conference, host Purdue

(15-8, 5-5) on Tuesday night. The Boilermakers have lost three of

four, including a 78-61 loss at home against rival Indiana on

Saturday.

On Monday, coach Matt Painter questioned his team’s effort in

its most recent loss.

”It’s disappointing. As a coach, you would think in a game like

that you would have the effort necessary. Maybe not the execution

or making a shot, but you would think that you would have that type

of a big-time effort,” he said. ”We’re just not getting that

across the board. We’ve got to do a better job of that. That’s

where you start. If you can’t get a big-time effort in this league,

you can do a lot of things well and it doesn’t matter.”

The Boilermakers are the last visiting team to win in Columbus.

Ohio State has won its last 38 home games – the second-longest such

streak in the nation – since dropping a 60-57 decision to Purdue on

Feb. 17, 2010.

But Purdue, lacking an imposing presence down low to counteract

Sullinger, will be hard pressed to pull off the upset.

Matta has had a series of outstanding big men in his 12-year

coaching career. It’s not a coincidence that every team he has

coached has won at least 20 games.

At Xavier, he had national player of the year David West. Since

he’s been at Ohio State, he’s had Terence Dials, Greg Oden, Kosta

Koufos, Byron Mullens, Dallas Lauderdale and now Sullinger.

”We’ve been fortunate with big guys here,” he said with a

grin.

For his part, Sullinger said the Buckeyes have shifted into

another gear in recent weeks.

”Everyone knows what they have to do to make this basketball

team go,” he said. ”You rarely see anyone stepping outside their

boundaries.”

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