Attacking the Record Book
Kyrie? Harrison? Nah. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jared Sullinger.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
On the same night that conflicting sources and articles had Duke point guard Kyrie Irving both likely out for the remainder of the season and returning in 3-4 weeks, another stud freshman had his most dominant performance yet. And it wasn’t Harrison Barnes’ much anticipated breakout game either. The flashier Irving had been stealing the show up until his unfortunate toe injury suffered against Butler, but Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger erupted for his own signature game Thursday night, dropping 40 points and 13 rebounds on IUPUI in the Buckeyes’ 75-64 victory. His performance eclipsed the previous Ohio State freshman single-game points record of 30 set by Michael Redd 13 years ago.
It’s not as if Sullinger struggled through the first handful of games of his college career. Over Ohio State’s first six games, Sullinger was nearly averaging a double-double and had already recorded 26 points and 10 boards against Florida’s more experienced front line. Sullinger received his fair share of hype entering the season (after all, he was last year’s Naismith Award winner as the nation’s top prep player), but perhaps due to Ohio State’s workman-like domination of every single opponent so far, Sullinger’s consistency over the first month of the season has been overshadowed by Irving’s electricity or Barnes’ struggles.
Sullinger seems to have a great appreciation for the weapons around him that make Ohio State one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Normally hesitant to demand the ball down low, Sullinger became more demonstrative, at the behest of coach Thad Matta, against IUPUI’s overmatched frontcourt. “Normally I don’t do that because that shows signs of selfishness and that’s not me,” Sullinger said following the game. “But he’s the head coach and you have to listen to him.”
Based on Sullinger’s comments, you get the feeling that for Ohio State to reach its potential and emerge from the brutal Big-10 with one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, Matta might have to force his big man to shoot the ball every time he sees single-coverage. Because, like Sullinger acknowledged after the game, he isn’t going to see many double-teams this season as long as shooters Jon Diebler and William Buford remain on the floor. Whether he is comfortable with it or not, you can bet some Big Ten coaches will force Sullinger to shoot 15-20 times a game and put him on the free throw line (where he hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire so far) another 15 times instead of giving the Buckeyes’ shooters free rein from outside. IUPUI, while a solid mid-major, is no Michigan State, Illinois, or Wisconsin (or Northwestern for that matter), but Sullinger demonstrated he is capable of handling the bulk of the scoring if teams decide to make a freshman beat them. But a 40-point performance for a freshman in only his seventh career game shows Sullinger is no ordinary freshman.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.