Sullinger Regaining Old Form in Tournament
By Brandon Castel
BOSTON — Jared Sullinger looked surprised when a reporter told him he seemed to be getting more elevation in Thursday night’s win over Cincinnati.
elevates on his jump shot against Cincinnati
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I elevated? Thanks, I like that. Elevation for Jared Sullinger,” he said raising one fist in the air, as if to celebrate his big moment.
Sullinger has had a lot of big moments in his two years at Ohio State, including a 23-point, 11-rebound performance against Yancy Gates and the Bearcats in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The reigning National Freshman of the Year has looked more like his old self in the Tournament this month, averaging over 17 points per game, than he did during stretches of the regular season.
It may have something to do with his improved health.
“Sometimes when you take a step back and you’re trying to get healthy,” Sullinger said.
“With my back problems—I had a back problem, but I don’t have it (any) more.”
Sullinger missed two games early in the season against Texas Pan-American and Kansas because of the back injury, but his body still did not look right after he returned with 12 points and 10 rebounds against USC-Upstate.
He left the South Carolina game because of an apparent foot injury and had to have an X-ray to make sure nothing was broken. He would play 30 minutes in the next game against Lamar, but something still looked off with Sullinger’s gait as he tried to fight through the pain.
“I had plantar fasciitis at the beginning of the year, but now everything is starting to disappear and I’m moving forward,” Sullinger admitted Friday.
“It was bothering me, but with me getting healthier and me being able to elevate a little bit more, that’s big time.”
The biggest difference for Sullinger in the NCAA Tournament has been the extra time off. After playing grueling Big Ten schedule during the regular season, and three games in three days during the conference tournament, Sullinger said his body is feeling better than it has all year.
“You go from playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament, and now you get a break until Thursday,” he said.
“Then you play Saturday and get another break until Thursday. Your body is recuperating from stuff like that.”
It certainly seems to be responding.
The Buckeyes hit a low point in their season with a 63-60 loss to Wisconsin in Columbus on Senior Day. It was the third loss in five games for the Buckeyes, and the second home loss in three tries for a team that had previously won 39 in a row at Value City Arena.
Sullinger had eight points and six rebounds in the loss. It was his second-straight game with single-digit points and fourth-straight game with single-digit rebounds.
Since that performance, this team has gone a tear, winning seven of the last eight games, with Sullinger leading the way. While Deshaun Thomas has had the hot hand, Sullinger is averaging 20.4 points and 10.1 rebounds over the last eight games.
He averaged 24 and 9.0 in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, and over 17 and eight in the NCAA Tournament, despite facing a pair of talented centers in Gates and Robert Sacre, or Gonzaga.
Sullinger won’t have to go against Fab Melo, the 7-foot Syracuse center who was ruled ineligible before the tournament, but he expects another tough matchup in the paint against Rakeem Chrismas on Saturday.
“With Fab Melo out, obviously the biggest Defensive Player of the Year, obviously that's a big‑time loss,” Sullinger said.
“I've know Rakeem ever since we was young in AAU, so I know Rakeem likes to block shots, and he's physical. And Baye (Keita), he's a good shot blocker. So I just know it's going to be a very physical game. Whoever wins this game is going to be in the Final Four, so everybody is going to give it their all.”
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