With time running down in the first half, Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger caught an inbound pass 30 feet from the basket, turned around and banked in a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
It suffices to say things were going his way.
South Carolina had no answer for the Buckeye freshman, who scored 30 points and grabbed 19 rebounds while leading No. 2 OSU to a 79-57 victory Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.
Sullinger’s advantage was apparent early in the game. As South Carolina focused on shutting down the Buckeyes’ outside shooters, a decision Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said was made before the game, Sullinger scored and rebounded at will.
Although Sullinger had already recorded his fifth double-double of the season by halftime, Horn said the decision to allocate just one defender to him was one that had to be made, given the bevy of talented players on the Buckeye roster.
“When a team is really good, it’s because they’re good everywhere,” Horn said. “If you try to take it all away, you’re going to take nothing away, so we conceded that (Sullinger) could have a big night.
“It was, plain and simple, a good, old-fashioned whipping from a veteran team that just makes all the little plays and does all the right things.”
Sullinger’s point total was the third all-time highest for an OSU freshman. He also holds the top spot on the list with his 40-point performance against IUPUI on Dec. 9. But he always has been quick to point to his rebounding totals as an indication of how well he played on a given day. His 19 boards Saturday were the most of his career.
“I key in on rebounding,” Sullinger said. “If I’m not rebounding then I’m not playing hard. Nineteen rebounds, I was really into the game.”
As easy as the Buckeyes made the game look on the offensive end, their defense might have been even more impressive. OSU forced the Gamecocks to take several contested jump shots late in the shot clock, and South Carolina shot just 27 percent from the field in the first half.
Although the Buckeye defense wasn’t quite as effective in the second half, it overall was something senior David Lighty said was of the utmost importance once OSU had the game in hand.
“The defense was the main key to the game,” Lighty said. “Toughness was our focus. Coming out, being physical and not letting them get a head start. We wanted to hit them first before they were able to hit us.”
With the win, OSU moved to 10-0 on the season. Lighty, whose five years in the program have allowed him to see his fair share of both great teams and great players, knows the Buckeyes still have a long way to go.
“We have to stay humble,” Lighty said. “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish, and the pieces we have put together now are working. We Just have to continue to get better.”
The Buckeyes return to action Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center against UNC Asheville.