Sullinger Injury Shakes Up Matta’s Lineup
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the first time since their Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee in 2010, Ohio State will be without Jared Sullinger when they take the court Saturday.
The sophomore center/forward out of Columbus Northland will miss Ohio State’s matchup with the University of Texas-Pan American (12 p.m. ET, BTN.com) with back spasms.
Appearing on WBNS 10TV Friday night, Jared’s dad, James ‘Satch’ Sullinger, said his son’s back spasms may be related to plantar fasciitis.
“He kind of tweaked (his back) at the beginning of the Duke game,” Satch Sullinger said.
“And as the game progressed, and at halftime, it was bothering him a little bit.”
Sullinger was walking with a slight limp after the Buckeyes’ 85-63 win over No. 3-ranked Duke on Nov. 29 and will be evaluated further next week, according to a statement released by the Ohio State department of athletics Friday.
One of the top post players in the country, Sullinger scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Ohio State’s 22-point win over the Blue Devils this past Tuesday. He is averaging 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds this season, while shooting over 62 percent from the floor and 83 percent from the free throw line.
Without him, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta will have to make some major changes, especially if Sullinger is forced to miss the game at No. 14-ranked Kansas on Dec. 10.
“When you have Sullinger in there, he’s a man inside. He’s always an option,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the top-10 meeting in Columbus.
“You can always get the ball to him and run offense through him or have him be the offense.”
Basically everything Ohio State has done offensively over the past two years has gone through Sullinger. Even when they had Jon Diebler on the outside, the Buckeyes liked to play more inside-out than vice-versa.
Now they will have to make some major changes at both ends of the floor, beginning with the starting lineup. Junior Evan Ravenel likely moves into the starting lineup at the five-spot, but he is more of a role player, and certainly not going to replace the production Sullinger has when he’s on the floor.
A transfer from Boston College who sat out last season, Ravenel has quickly established himself as Ohio State’s No. 2 big man this season and a guy Matta can rely on off the bench.
“I think we saw signs early on this year that he was going to be a very good basketball player for us, and hopefully he can continue to do those things,” Matta said earlier in the season.
“Evan understands he has a role to fulfill on this team. As long as he continues to embrace that role and gets easy buckets, gets the rebounds, that’s big for us.”
The 6-8, 260-pound forward from Tampa, Fla. is averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game off the bench this season, but suddenly he will have to play important minutes for Sullinger, who was averaging over 29 minutes a night.
The Buckeyes will also need more minutes from Amir Williams, a highly-recruited freshman who has played a very limited role off the bench this season. After playing 14 minutes in the season-opener against Jackson State, Williams has played less than 20 total minutes over the last four games, including just two minutes against Valparaiso and one against Duke.
The 6-11, 220-pound center out of Birmingham, Mich. is an excellent shot-blocker, but a raw player at both ends of the floor. He has had some issues staying in position defensively and has not contributed much the offensive end, but now would be the time for the Buckeyes to find out if he can give them much as a freshman.
The real onus will be on Sullinger’s fellow starters—William Buford, Aaron Craft, Deshaun and Lenzelle Smith—to pick up the scoring slack. Buford is averaging 18 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 52 percent from behind the arc.
He is coming off a 20-point performance against Duke, and the Buckeyes also got 18 form Thomas, who seems to have unlimited untapped potential on offense.
When the Buckeyes lost Evan Turner to a broken back, it was Buford who stepped in to the starting lineup to help keep the team afloat until their star could return. Sullinger expects the same from his teammates this time around.
“This basketball team is tough,” he said after the Duke game.
“That’s pretty much our motto, mental toughness and physical toughness, and we showed that today. They made runs at us, but we fought back every time.”
Now they will have to fight on without their fearless leader. Fortunately, they will get some reinforcements to help them weather storm as freshman LaQuinton Ross was ruled eligible by the NCAA this week.
Ross will join the team on Dec. 9, and despite his lack of practice time, could be called on to provide an instant spark if the Buckeyes fall behind against the Jayhawks.
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