No. 2 Ohio St. 74, South Carolina 66

Ohio State coach Thad Matta might have a second career ahead as

a comedian.

Asked about the status of injured star forward Jared Sullinger,

Matta quickly said the Buckeyes sophomore wasn’t hurt, just yanked

from the second-ranked Buckeyes’ 74-66 win over South Carolina on

Saturday for shoddy defense. ”He had no problems, we just sent him

to the showers,” Matta told the room of stunned media.

Then Matta acknowledged the joke and Sullinger’s bone bruise in

his left foot. Ohio State’s coach was just glad he could laugh a

little bit since his leading scorer wasn’t more seriously hurt.

”We think he’ll be fine,” Matta said. ”We’re just happy there

wasn’t a break in there.”

Still, Ohio State (10-1) showed it could succeed with Sullinger

sidelined. Deshaun Thomas had a career-high 30 points and William

Buford added 17 as Matta collected his 200th win in nine seasons

with the Buckeyes.

”We had to get a little juice into us,” Thomas said. ”We made

some mistakes on offense in the first half with turnovers and

that’s not us. So we just put a little fire and juice into

us.”

That looked as if it might be hard once Sullinger left the game.

The Buckeyes were trailing 33-29 at the half and had appeared a

step slower than the Gamecocks (4-6).

The Buckeyes used a 20-8 charge in the second half to take

control.

Thomas got the run started 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. Matta,

200-58 with the Buckeyes, joined Fred Taylor (279 wins 1959-76) and

Harold G. Olsen (254 from 1923-46).

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 coach Darrin 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 often.

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

his credit, he made them,” Horn said.

Malik Cooke led South Carolina with 21 points.

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

But 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 William 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.

Matta had yet to speak with Sullinger about the injury. ”They

told me, `He’s OK.’ I said, `Fine, I’ll go do this stuff” of

coaching a highly-ranked basketball team.