Jared Sullinger did more than power No. 1 Ohio State past No. 23 Illinois on Saturday. The massive power forward firmly entrenched himself in the national Player of the Year discussion as well.
A 27-point, 16-rebound performance – all on national TV – helped the Buckeyes (20-0) avoid their first loss of the season, at one of the Big Ten’s toughest venues, no less.
“I felt like Jared was pretty good today,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said afterward. “That was a joke — he was awesome.”
Until now, much of the national attention revolved around BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette – he of the ridiculous shooting range – and Connecticut senior Kemba Walker – he of the last-second heroics. They’re 1-2 nationally in scoring, jaw-dropping plays and hyperbole.
Conversely, Sullinger, the Buckeyes’ 6-foot-9, 280-pound freshman, is an overpowering presence down low, a player who feasts on opposing post players and compiles double-doubles (10 through 20 games), not highlight-reel plays. That’s his genius – he’s a force down low and one that must be seen in entire games in order to be properly appreciated. (Or you could just take a look at his stats. They’ll impress casual fans and tempo-free advocates.)
“He’s tough,” Illinois forward Mike Davis said afterward. “He’s bigger than I thought he was.”
But that’s life for a traditional post player in the college game – the guards usually grab all the attention. But Sullinger now has the added bonus of playing for an unbeaten team that’s atop the rankings. That’s something Fredette and Walker can’t match, no matter how many points they score.
When you’re the best player on the nation’s No. 1 team, you can’t help but earn Player of the Year plaudits. If Sullinger does more of the same Tuesday against Purdue – and their stellar center, JaJaun Johnson – he’ll only boost his rep even more.
“He’s a special young man,” Matta said. “His humility — he’s all about winning.”
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