Sullinger Carries Buckeyes to Overtime win
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State coach Thad Matta told his team they couldn’t count on shooting 14-for-15 from behind the arc against Northwestern the way they did Sunday against Wisconsin.
He probably didn’t expect them to go 3-for-15 either.
The Buckeyes misfired on their first eight attempts from outside, but Jared Sullinger did enough inside to carry Ohio State (30-2) to a 67-61 win over Northwestern (18-13) in their opening game of the Big Ten Tournament.
“You’re going to have games where you shoot 40 or 50 percent, and you’re going to have games like tonight where you’re not shooting a good percentage at all,” said senior Jon Diebler, who was just 1-for-5 from long distance after hitting 17 of his last 20 three-point shots.
“That’s where we know we have other guys who can go to the basket more, and with our interior guys we have other ways to score.”
One of those ways is to give the ball to Sullinger inside and let him to go to work. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year was just 2-for-12 from the field against the Wildcats, but he was 16-of-18 from the free throw line, including a perfect 10-for-10 in the overtime period.
“It was back-to-back-to-back fouls in a row. What are you supposed to do about that? That’s a big man down low, I’m just happy he’s on my team,” said fifth-year senior David Lighty, who was smirking as Sullinger drained his 10th free throw in overtime.
“For a big guy to make free throws, that just adds another weapon in our back pocket.”
The Buckeyes made it to overtime despite a 5-for-19 shooting performance in the second half thanks in large part to their defense. Ohio State held Northwestern to just 37.3 percent shooting for the game, including a 5-for-12 night from Michael “Juice” Thompson, who had dropped 35 on Minnesota one day earlier.
“I’m not very tall, but I am a little taller than he is, so I think that was a great advantage for me,” said freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who tracked Thompson around for most of the game.
“I got a hand on a couple of those shots, but at the same time he missed some shots too.”
Craft also did a good job sparking the offense late in the first half when it looked like they were stuck in mud.
The Buckeyes had managed only 21 points through the first 17 minutes of the game, as Sullinger, Diebler, Lighty and William Buford all struggled to score the basketball. Ohio State’s four-leading scorers this season were a combined 3-for-17 from the floor in the first half, so Craft had to take on more of the load, scoring seven straight points as OSU closed out the first half on a 9-0 run.
“The big thing is Jared, they don’t want to leave his body,” said Craft, who finished with eight points and three rebounds.
“Usually when you drive in, it’s their big man that steps up, but since they don’t want to leave Jared’s body that leaves lanes open.”
The game was back-and-forth in the second half, with the Buckeyes leading most of the way. They held a 51-49 lead with 3:21 to play after a tip-in by Buford, who was just 3-of-14 from the floor, but Alex Marcotullio buried a three-pointer at the end of the shot-clock to put Northwestern ahead by one.
Video replayed showed that Marcotullio had not released the ball before the horn sounded, which should have been a violation. Instead, Sullinger went to the line at the other end, where he tied the game with one of two free throws.
Once again, Ohio State’s defense saved the day, as Lighty got his hand on Northwestern’s final shot in regulation by Drew Crawford.
“Hopefully they gave me a block on that one,” said Lighty, who finished with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“I had a lot of fouls coming my way during the game, so I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to be on the defensive end.”
Their defense and rebounding turned out to be the difference in regulation. OSU hammered Northwestern 48-27 on the boards. Sullinger finished with 18 rebounds, just one short of the Big Ten tournament record. He missed the potential game-winning fall-away shot at the buzzer, he more than made up for it by hitting all 10 of his free throws in overtime.
"If you're not knocking down shots, the only thing that can help you is defense and rebounding," said forward William Buford, "so we followed through with that today until we made shots."
Game Play by Play
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