COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — It’s far too soon to compare the current Ohio State team with the Buckeyes from four years ago who went 35-4 and lost to Florida in the national championship game.
That some are even discussing it says a lot about the nation’s current No. 2 team.
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Freshman Jared Sullinger had 30 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and showed his range by hitting a 30-foot bank shot at the first-half buzzer to lead Ohio State past South Carolina 79-57 on Saturday.
William Buford added 12 points and Jon Diebler had 11 for the Buckeyes (10-0), who expected one of their biggest tests of the young season but dominated throughout.
“A lot of people have asked me that,” coach Thad Matta said of the similarities between the teams. “It’s a different makeup. It’s hard to explain.”
Both had great big men, the Buckeyes of the present anchored by the offensively creative Sullinger and shot-blocker and rebounder Dallas Lauderdale, while the 2006-07 team had 7-foot Greg Oden. Both had a mix of slashers and 3-point shooters, although the team four years ago was handled by superlative point guard Mike Conley Jr. The closest the current team has to him is freshman sixth man Aaron Craft.
Veteran swingman David Lighty, a member of both teams, sees the similarities.
“There are a lot of comparisons, especially how we play defense and hold the paint down at the defensive end,” he said. “And how we’re shooting the ball, playing inside-out. That’s making it real hard for other teams to try to key on one person or guard us.”
Sullinger, an acclaimed 6-foot-9 recruit from Columbus, has been a sensation in his first 10 college games. He’s averaging 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds and has been named the Big Ten player of the week twice and has won the weekly freshman award four times. He set an Ohio State record with 40 points in a 75-64 victory over IUPUI on Dec. 9.
He did not have to face double-teams all game, most likely because Diebler was coming off a game in which he made nine straight 3-pointers and scored 29 points.
“It was obvious they were going to single me,” Sullinger said. “Our scouting report was great, honestly. We added a couple of plays just for us to lift the big man. … On the scouting report, it said (South Carolina had players who were) 6-9, 217 and another was 6-9, 225. We just felt that we could get the ball inside with our size.”
Sullinger’s previous best in rebounds was 14 against North Carolina A&T last month. His 14 defensive rebounds were a Buckeyes freshman record.
“If you try to take it all away, you’re going to end up taking nothing away,” Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said of the choice he had to make with his defense.
Ohio State had expected a stout challenge inside against a solid team with some length. The Gamecocks had outrebounded seven of their previous eight opponents (including the Big Ten’s annual leader in that stat, Michigan State) and came in sixth in the nation averaging 43 rebounds a game.
But the Buckeyes controlled inside at both ends and won the battle of the boards 44-35.
Lighty, a fifth-year senior with more than 100 wins under his belt, said the team is growing in confidence.
“You still have to stay humble and stay hungry,” he said. “But it’s only the first 10 games. It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. Hopefully we’re 30-0 or 39-0 at the end of the season, then we can be happy about it. But now we still have to get better.”
Sam Muldrow scored 14 points and Malik Cooke 13 for South Carolina (7-2), whose only losses this season have come against second-ranked Big Ten teams. The Gamecocks lost 82-73 at then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 16.
“Plain and simple, it was a good old-fashioned whipping from a veteran team that just makes all the little plays and does all the right things,” Horn said. “We looked like a team that has very little experience.”
Battling an awful shooting game, the Gamecocks trailed 42-21 after Sullinger threw in a 30-foot shot at the halftime buzzer. They never got closer than 15 points after that and shot 38 percent for the game.
The Buckeyes were buoyed by a loud crowd.
It was almost like it was four years ago when Ohio State steamrolled its way through most of the season.
“We’ve been excited since summertime. We’ve been excited what we’ve been able to do with competitive open gyms and competitive practices,” Lauderdale said. “When we’re able to put our talents together we have a pretty special team.”