Sullinger has statement game
COLUMBUS, Ohio - IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter offered a suggestion for how teams could stop Ohio State freshman big man Jared Sullinger.
Unfortunately for the remainder of Ohio State's opponents this season, Hunter's recommendation won't do any good.
"Get him in the draft early," Hunter quipped. "We won't see many guys like that in our league. He is good."
As Sullinger walked slowly into the postgame interview room in Value City Arena after showing the world why he is a considered an NBA lottery pick, it was evident Hunter wasn't the only one that was pleased with Sullinger's game.
Junior guard William Buford also showed his approval for his young teammate by shouting "Sully the Great" before the players made their way behind the podium.
The 6-foot-9 freshman may not categorize himself as "great" just yet, but Sullinger made perhaps the first exclamation point of his young collegiate career in Ohio State's 75-64 win over IUPUI on Thursday evening in Value City Arena.
Sullinger - a Columbus native and Naismith Award winner given to the nation's top high school player - scored a freshman-record 40 points for the Buckeyes after hitting 12-of-17 shots and 16-of-23 free throw attempts.
It was the first time an Ohio State player scored 40 points since 1986 when Dennis Hopson scored 41 points at Dayton. It was only the fourth time since 1965 a Buckeye has scored 40 points in a game.
Sullinger also beat Michael Redd's freshman scoring record, out-doing Redd's 30-point performance against USC in 1997 by 10 points.
"I told you before the season he was pretty good," Ohio State head Thad Matta joked after the game.
"I thought if we got something established down there it would open up the outside," Matta continued. "Obviously we stuck with throwing it down there (to Sullinger), but I felt like our post guys could have a big night but I didn't know it would be this big. Until they adjusted, we were going to stick with it."
Sullinger - who also added 13 rebounds for the Buckeyes - remained rather reserved in his postgame meeting with the media, an immense contrast to the loud evening the box score will suggest he had on the court.
But despite being just one year removed from being one of the most coveted high school basketball prospects in the country, the projected future NBA lottery pick admitted he'd rather stay out of the spotlight.
By doing so, Sullinger gave all the credit to his teammates.
"It was a pretty good night," Sullinger said. "My teammates were finding me in the post a lot. I have to give (all the credit) to them."
IUPUI held a second half nine-point lead over the Buckeyes, making the Jaguars' bid for its first-ever win over a top 25 team a realistic goal. Instead, Matta instructed Sullinger to be more aggressive in the paint and take over.
Sullinger, who scored 26 points in the second half, did just that.
"Basically Coach Matta told me to call for it," Sullinger said. "Normally I don't do that because that shows signs of selfishness and that's isn't me. Him being the head coach, you've got to listen to him and that's what I did."
Sullinger wasn't present for Ohio State's shoot around as he was attending the final viewing of his uncle, Harold Sullinger, who passed away less than a week ago on Dec. 3. After the game, Sullinger dedicated his performance to his uncle.
"This game does go to him," Sullinger said. "I can remember the last game he was still here and I could hear him yelling. I got to see my uncle for the last time. It's tough."
The No. 2 Buckeyes remained unbeaten after Sullinger willed his team to the win, but given all the attention the freshman has already received, Matta isn't concerned with how he will move forward from the big performance.
"He knows he has great guys around him," Matta said. "It could flip on him Sunday and we could go in a completely different direction. He has had a lot thrown at him and he has done a tremendous job of handling it all."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.