Sullinger Took Last Northwestern Game Personal
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Jared Sullinger waved his arms in the air as Ohio State dribbled out the clock on Friday’s 67-61 overtime win against Northwestern.
He had wanted this one bad.
Friday’s game wasn’t the first time this season Ohio State has had trouble with the Wildcats. The Buckeyes survived a trip to Evanston back in January, but only after Drew Crawford’s half-court shot ricocheted safely off the backboard.
Ohio State shot the ball much better in that game than they did Friday, but they allowed Northwestern to stay in the game thanks to their offensive rebounding.
That never sat well with Ohio State’s star freshman.
“Last time we played Northwestern, they killed us on the glass and I only had eight rebounds,” Sullinger said in the locker room after Friday’s win.
“So I took that personally.”
It wasn’t Northwestern’s fault that Sullinger didn’t get his share of boards in the last meeting, or maybe it was. Either way, they certainly paid the price on Friday. After out-rebounding the Buckeyes 22-18 in Evanston, including 8-2 on the offensive glass, the Wildcats were embarrassed on the boards 48-27 Friday.
Ohio State had 21 offensive rebounds to just six for Northwestern, with Sullinger grabbing eight of them by himself. Along with his 20 points, Sullinger pulled down a total of 18 rebounds, one shy of his career-high set earlier this season against South Carolina.
“You got to rebound. I love rebounding,” said Sullinger, who averaged nearly10 boards per game during the regular season.
“It’s selfish, but it helps your team when you’re being selfish on the rebounds.”
Sullinger’s selfish game was one off the Big Ten Tournament record set by former Buckeye Greg Oden back in 2007. Oden and the No. 1-seed Buckeyes won the tournament that year, beating No. 2-seed Wisconsin 66-49 in the championship game.
Mike Conley Jr. was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament that year, and Sullinger is on his way to claiming the same honor this year despite a poor shooting night against Northwestern.
“We all struggled,” Sullinger said of his first post-season game at Ohio State.
“Obviously I went 2-for-12 from the field today, but I was knocking down my free throws.”
He went 16-of-18 from the line and Northwestern had no answer for the big man, especially in overtime, where he scored 10 of OSU’s 15 points. All of them came at the free throw line.
Other than his rebounding, Sullinger hadn’t played well to that point. He had struggled to finish around the basket and his attempts to establish a mid-range game weren’t fairing much better. He had failed to take advantage of some of the matchups against Luke Mirkovic, Davide Curletti and John Shurna.
To Sullinger’s credit, he didn’t get frustrated the way he had earlier in the year when things weren’t going his way. Despite a poor shooting night, and despite not having a single field goal in the second half, Sullinger actually became more patient in overtime as the pressure was building around him.
“That’s the price of being in the spotlight at an early age,” said Sullinger who went to the line 10 times in overtime and made all 10 shots.
“You have to take your time and feel everything out. That’s what I did today.”
In the process, Sullinger fouled both Mirkovic and Curletti out of the game during the overtime period. Mirkovic was so frustrated with his foul that he slammed his mouth guard onto the ground, which drew a technical foul from the referee.
“Build-up or no build-up, but in that moment he certainly didn't do what he should be doing,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.
“You just can't make that showy kind of maneuver, so the ref is not there to interpret whether you did it because you're upset with yourself or with him. He just sees the action.”
With Mirkovic and Curletti out of the game, Sullinger then went to work on Shurna, who stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 215 pounds.
“Towards the end of the game, they kind of went small, especially in overtime, so we decided to, because they had Shurna guarding me, obviously Shurna has about 60 pounds less than me, so we started going to me from there,” Sullinger said.
“Free throws is just a mentality. After practice we always shoot 25, and then after we break huddle, I shoot 25 more. I've been shooting free throws for the past two weeks after practice, so that really helped me out.”
That’s a good thing, because he’ll likely have to do it again tomorrow.
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