Struggling to keep pace with IUPUI, the No. 2 Ohio State men’s basketball team continuously relied on freshman Jared Sullinger to deliver in the post. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Sullinger was up to the task, scoring 40 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a record-breaking performance Thursday at the Schottenstein Center.
On a fast break, with the Buckeyes trailing by six, Sullinger threw down a monstrous dunk that cut the Jaguars’ lead to 50-46 with 11:49 remaining in the second half. The dunk sparked an 11-0 run for the Buckeyes, who took the lead for the first time in the second half and finished off the Jaguars 75-64.
Sullinger put on a dominant performance in the face of adversity, notching his fourth double-double of the season. Scoring 40 points, he broke the Buckeyes’ previous freshman record of 30 points, which Michael Redd set against USC in 1997.
“Get him in the draft early,” said IUPUI coach Ron Hunter. “We won’t see many guys like that in our league.”
Sullinger dedicated the game to his uncle, Harold Sullinger, who passed away Dec. 3. He missed the team’s morning shoot-around to attend his uncle’s showing.
Sullinger humbly deflected any credit for his record-breaking performance.
“It was a pretty good night due to my teammates,” Sullinger said. “My teammates were finding me in the post.”
The two teams traded buckets early as OSU struggled on the defensive end, resulting in a 35-35 tie at the end of the first half.
“I think IUPUI came in here and knocked us on our heels a little bit tonight,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “I don’t think we were challenging shots at the level that we needed to. Hopefully these guys get a little bit of a wake up call.”
Senior Jon Diebler agreed, saying the team looked flat early.
“I don’t think we came out with the energy that we needed to, especially with nine days off,” Diebler said.
The Jaguars’ leading scorer, junior Alex Young, kept his team close with a 13-point effort in the first half. Young finished the game with 20 points and six assists, as the Buckeyes struggled to guard the 6-foot-6 forwards’ fall-away jumper.
Sullinger and junior William Buford accounted for most of the Buckeyes’ early offense, scoring 14 and 10 points in the first half, respectively.
Buford started by shooting 4-for-4, including a thunderous dunk on an assist from senior David Lighty with 14:46 remaining in the first half. He cooled down in the second half, finishing with 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Every time the Jaguars tried to take the lead, Sullinger beat them back with a score underneath.
“I felt like our post guys could have a big night tonight, but I didn’t know it would be this big,” Matta said.
It was another tough road loss for IUPUI, who is 0-4 away from home this season. But Hunter said the final score isn’t all that matters.
“I’m proud of my kids,” he said. “Those kids in there played their hearts out.”
Thursday night’s game was the first of a seven-game home stretch for OSU. The Buckeyes will host Western Carolina on Sunday at the program’s old stomping grounds, St. John Arena.
“There’s a lot of history at St. John’s,” Sullinger said. “To be able to be a part of that history is really something special.”