Izzo: Spartans Can’t be Enamored with Sullinger
By Brandon Castel
When his team takes the court against Ohio State Tuesday night in Columbus, Tom Izzo will be searching relentlessly for number zero in white.
The Michigan State coach has yet to see the Buckeyes up close this season, but he is well aware of what Jared Sullinger has already accomplished in his first season of collegiate basketball.
He also knows what will happen if the Spartans allow Ohio State’s 6-foot-9 power forward to catch the ball near the basket in their only meeting of the season.
“He's a load. The one thing you have to do is not let him post as deep as he posts,” Izzo said Monday during his weekly press conference.
“If he gets the ball on the block or in the paint at all, he's very hard to stop without fouling, so the work you do before he gets the ball is almost more important than the work you do after he gets the ball.”
One of the most dominant post players in the country, Sullinger is shooting 57-percent from the floor this season, while averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He enters Tuesday’s game on the heels of three-straight double-doubles, including a 19-point, 12-rebound performance in OSU’s 71-67 loss at Wisconsin.
Sullinger will likely be fuming coming off the first loss of his college career—along with the alleged spitting incident in Madison—and Izzo knows it will take a team effort to shut down the talented big man.
“I anticipate me throwing three different guys at him and maybe a fourth,” Izzo said of his defensive strategy for Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“We have a weight, muscle guy in (Derrick) Nix, we have more of a finesse guy, position guy in (Garrick) Sherman and we have an athletic, long guy in (Adreian) Payne, who's played against him, and played AAU ball with him.”
Payne played at Jefferson High School in Dayton last season, but also played on the All-Ohio Red squad with Sullinger and Aaron Craft in 2009.
The Spartans might also use another Ohio guy to help contain Sullinger if Delvon Roe is available. The third-year junior out of Lakewood St. Edward High School left Thursday’s game against Penn State with what Izzo called a sprain or deep bone bruise in his knee.
“He has not practiced and is a question mark at best for the game,” the MSU coach said.
“If anybody could ever play, it will be him. And we need him. He's the athletic guy who can guard some of those guys that are smaller. He seems to be able to play through a lot of pain, so we'll see what the doctor says.”
The 6-foot-8 Roe would be a helpful addition against Sullinger, but Izzo knows there is a lot more to beating the Buckeyes than just slowing down their star freshman.
“The challenge is to not be the team that gets enamored with, 'O.K. we held Sullinger to 15 points,' and then meanwhile, those two guards have gotten 20,” he said of William Buford and Jon Diebler.
“If that happens, we're going to lose. Sullinger's going to get some points. We just have to make sure those guys don't go off for big numbers.”
Buford had a team-high 21 points in Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin and Diebler is closing in on the all-time three-point record in the Big Ten, but Izzo pointed to another Buckeye wingman as the guy who can make it all go when he’s on his game.
“This is probably the most athletic 4-man we'll play,” Izzo said of fifth-year senior David Lighty.
“He's got the second-most assists on the team because he's a penetrator and then he kicks to Diebler, and if Diebler's getting an inside-out shot, or Buford, they don't miss those. That's what's made Lighty so effective. He's the Jack-of-All-Trades. He does a lot of different things for them. When he leaves that program, they're not going to be as good.”
That is high praise for Lighty, who has played well against the Spartans in his four career meetings. After averaging 11 points and 4.7 rebounds in three games against Michigan State as a freshman, Lighty tallied 13 points and nine rebounds in a 75-67 win in East Lansing last season.
He is averaging 12.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists this season while shooting 46.2-percent from the floor and 40.7-percent from behind the arc.
“Lighty can be a shooter, he can get to the basket, he can do so many different things. To me, he's one of the favored on their team because he's so versatile,” Izzo said.
“He's a rebounder, he's got the toughness, he can defend. He's a driver, he can make 3’s, he's a distributor and he's a phenomenal offensive rebounder. But of all those things, his best attribute is that he's a phenomenal athlete with toughness. He's one of my favorite players in the league.”
There won’t be much love between the two Tuesday night, however as the Spartans (14-10, 6-6 Big Ten) look to send the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes (24-1, 11-1) to their second-straight loss.
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