INDIANAPOLIS — Just like in 2007, the Ohio State men’s basketball team is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Just like in 2007, a freshman post player was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Jared Sullinger was given the honor following his team’s 71-60 victory against Penn State in the championship game Sunday. The Buckeye forward becomes the second freshman ever to receive the award along with 2007 recipient OSU center Greg Oden.
Despite earning the rare honor, Sullinger deferred much of the praise to his teammates.
“I couldn’t get that award without my teammates. They really helped me. There’s times when you can’t double me because (senior guard) Jon Diebler’s hot or (junior guard) William Buford’s hot. (Senior forward) Dave Lighty can be hot anytime he wants to; (freshman guard Aaron) Craft can get his points but he chooses not to,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without these guys. They really help me out.”
Sullinger averaged a team-high 16.3 points and 14 rebounds per game over the Buckeyes’ three tournament contests. He logged 45 minutes in the team’s overtime victory against Northwestern on Friday. Sullinger hauled in 18 rebounds and scored 20 points in that win for his best statistical performance of the weekend.
“He was a monster. … That’s crazy for anybody, not even a freshman,” Buford said of his teammate winning the award. “If he was a senior and did it that’s just crazy. He stepped it up real big for us and we need him.”
Buford joined Sullinger and Diebler on the All-Tournament team. Northwestern senior guard Michael Thompson, Michigan State senior guard Kalin Lucas and Penn State senior guard Talor Battle were the other selections.
Though he was given the highest individual award of the tournament, Sullinger did not shoot well throughout the weekend, averaging just 33 percent from the floor.
Diebler indicated that, for the Buckeye freshman, it’s not all about shooting.
“Just how he affects the game without having the ball, and even when he does have the ball, he draws so much attention that he creates for all of us on the perimeter,” Diebler said. “So when you have a guy like that, obviously it makes things easier for us on the perimeter because he’s such a force inside, and the one thing that I love about Jared is how he rebounds.”
The attention on Sullinger came at a price, as the forward took a lot of punishment during the three days. He went to the free-throw line 38 times in the tournament, connecting on 25 for 66 percent from the charity stripe.
The effort required to sustain that punishment and remain on the floor for an average of 39 minutes a game showed against the Nittany Lions.
“When you take beatings for three days straight,” Sullinger said, “I was surprised that everybody wasn’t sucking wind the way I was.”
Three other Buckeyes have taken home the Big Ten MOP award: Oden in 2007, Boban Savovic in 2002 and Evan Turner last year.
Sullinger’s honor marks the second time players from the same team have brought home the award in consecutive years. Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson did so for Michigan State in 1999 and 2000, respectively.
Despite Sullinger’s poor shooting percentage and the fact that he averaged almost a point less than his season average, Lighty said he thought the award was well-deserved.
“He can affect the game without scoring, especially shooting (13) free throws a game,” he said. “I mean, he’s knocking those down and getting every rebound around him. You can’t stop that.”
Hopefully for the Buckeyes, their next opponent can’t stop it either. The team will play the winner between Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio on Friday in Cleveland.