Sullinger’s Bright Career Could Have Bitter End
By Brandon Castel
NEW ORLEANS — If Saturday night’s 64-62 loss to Kansas was the final game in Jared Sullinger’s Ohio State career, it was not the way he planned to go out.
Not by a long-shot.
Sullinger made his decision to return for a sophomore season in Columbus just moments after Ohio State’s loss to Kentucky in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He wanted to get the Buckeyes to the Final Four, and to win a championship. He wanted to make a statement about college basketball, and help the Buckeyes make one about their program under head coach Thad Matta.
He almost made it.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sullinger did lead the Buckeyes to the Final Four, and had them in front of the Jayhawks by 13 points in the final minute of the first half, before watching his team collapse under the pressure of the moment.
Ohio State’s first-team All-American scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but he was outplayed by Kansas big man Thomas Robinson at one of the floor, and overmatched by center Jeff Withey at the other end.
With March screeching to a sudden halt, Sullinger’s 5-19 shooting performance was his worst of the season, and the second worst of his career. He was just 2-11 in the second half as the Buckeyes were outscored 39-28 by a Kansas team they had dominated for much of the first half.
Afterward, Sullinger was not nearly as committal about his future as he was after last season’s loss.
“I honestly don't know,” Sullinger said when asked about his future.
“That's something I'm going to take up with coach and just talk it over with him and talk it over with my family. I really don't know my decision yet.”
Having already turned down millions once, and the chance to be among the top 10 players taken in the NBA Draft, it would stand to reason that Sullinger will leave Ohio State on a sour note.
He gave Matta the two good years he offered when he first signed with the Buckeyes, and he has helped elevate Ohio State from a one-year wonder in 2006-07 to one of the premier up-and-coming basketball programs in the country.
“It’s still tough, but we got farther,” Sullinger said with eyes still red from the tears.
“We got to the point where we were one of the last four standing. Only the best basketball teams play here, but we took a loss and it hurts. If you look around, these guys are really, really hurt and that hurts me.”
Sullinger was in a state of shock after the loss. He could barely contain his emotions as he left the court, pulling his scarlet jersey over his head in frustration. There was a blank look on his face and a distance in his eyes as he stumbled out of the arena like a disoriented drunk after closing time.
“He put so much pressure on himself, especially for this team,” teammate Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said.
“When we lose, Jared feels like it’s his fault. He feels like he was supposed to win us the game, and he was supposed to make those plays and he was supposed to do so much.”
That explains some of the decisions Sullinger made in the second half, where he caught the ball away from the basket and tried to force a shot over Withey, a 7-footer with a knack for blocking shots.
Three times on one play, Sullinger tried to force the ball over Withey, who swatted it back each time. He finished with seven blocks and frustrated Sullinger the way Josh Harrellson did in last season’s loss to Kentucky.
“He puts so much pressure on himself, and when you don’t win the game, the negativity starts to pour down,” Smith said.
“You feel disappointment in yourself and that you didn’t do more to help this team win.”
Everyone in the OSU locker room felt that way Saturday night, even senior William Buford, who score 19 points on 6-10 shooting. No one felt it more, however, than Sullinger.
He cares so much, almost to a fault at times, but it’s what makes him great. It also made Ohio State great, even if this is how it ends.
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