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
”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
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
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
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
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