Sacre poses challenge for Sullinger

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Last updated: 03/16/2012 7:05 PM

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Men's Basketball
Sacre Poses Interesting Challenge for Sullinger
By Brandon Castel

PITTSBURGH — There was a softness in Robert Sacre’s eyes as he stood in the hallway outside Gonzaga’s locker room,

The son of former NFL tight-end Greg LaFleur moved from New Orleans to Vancouver with his mom on a journey that would eventually lead him to Spokane, Wash., and ultimately to Mark Few.

Sacre’s smile widened and his eyes squinted as spoke of his mother, and of his son, for whom he now plays the game of basketball. The 7-footer with tattoos covering his upper arms is jokester, who refers to NBA Hall-of-Famer John Stockton—the father of his teammate—as “Big J.”

On the court, he takes on a different persona.

“I would just say he’s a competitive guy,” Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos said Friday.

“It really rubs off on our whole team. We really feed off his energy.”

And his physicality.

The 22-year-old senior has shot over 50 percent from the floor and averaged nearly two blocks per game over the last three seasons in Spokane. He isn’t a high-level scorer for the Bulldogs, but he did have 14 points and six rebounds in Gonzaga’s 77-54 win Thursday against West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

“He is a big, strong physical post player,” said OSU backup big man Evan Ravenel.

“He’s good both going both ways. I think he’s a good player. Definitely a challenge.”

Sacre scored 16 points against Illinois in a matchup with their 7-footer, Meyers Leonard, back in December. He also scored 16 against Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix in battle with Michigan State.

Both games ended in losses for Gonzaga, with Leonard going for 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. The Buckeyes are hoping Jared Sullinger can have a similar game against Sacre Saturday when they meet Gonzaga in the round of 32 at the Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

“I think he’ll handle it very well,” said Ravenel, Sullinger’s roommate.

“Jared is, if not the most skilled post player in the country, he’s up there. Sacre is a good post defender so it will be a good matchup.”

Sacre was the Defensive Player of the Year in the All-West Coast Conference during the regular season. He has been up and down with his play this season and his projected to be a second-round pick in the upcoming draft by NBADraft.net.

Sullinger is projected to go as high as No. 5 overall in the draft, after returning to Ohio State for his sophomore season, but the Bulldogs know the key to stopping the first-team All-American is to keep him away from the basket.

“You want to just limit his touches. He’s a great player, especially when he gets the ball,” Sacre said Friday.

“He likes to get the ball in deep, so you want to keep him from getting the ball in so deep near the basket and make sure you limit his touches. So make sure he doesn’t get easy baskets, keep him ff the glass. That’s another way he gets easy baskets.”

The 6-9 Sullinger scored the first six points for Ohio State against Loyola-Maryland in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament, but after that he seemed to take a backseat to Deshaun Thomas.

His classmate scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Sullinger finished with 12 and 11. He also had a career-high five blocks, but did not score a single point after the 5:53 mark in the first half.

“He didn’t have to take over. He came out and did what he needed to do. He hit shots when we got him the ball and he defended very well,” Ravenel said.

“Everyone was saying Deshaun was playing well because he was hitting his shots and getting rebounds. Jared doesn’t have to take 20 shots to dominate a ballgame. His presence alone is a huge advantage to our team.”

Sullinger is clearly one of the premier big men in the country. He is an outstanding rebounder and has the ability to finish anywhere around the basket, but when he has struggled in his two years at Ohio State, it has typically come against big, strong guys like Payne, or even Josh Harrellson a year ago.

The Columbus native finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds in Ohio State’s 62-60 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. He also had eight offensive rebounds, but allowed Harrellson to match him at the other end. Kentucky’s big man finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, as he neutralized Sullinger’s ability to truly dominate the post.

Sacre could present a similar problem for Sullinger, who averaged 17 points and nearly 12 rebounds in three meetings with Payne and Spartans during the regular season.

“I just keep playing my game. I think that’s what makes me me,” Sullinger said.

“I don’t change my game for nobody, no matter how big you are, how physical you are, or how tall you are. You just have to keep playing your game.”

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