Facing an IUPUI team determined to score the upset, the Buckeyes simply started going to the well that was Sullinger, one of the nation's top freshmen prospects out of his school. All he did was turn in a record-breaking performance.
The Columbus native went 12 of 17 from the field and 16 of 23 from the charity stripe to finish with 40 points, a record by an Ohio State freshman, as the Buckeyes (7-0) earned the 75-64 victory.Sullinger said he began calling for the ball after head coach Thad Matta instructed him to do so at the first timeout of the second half. At the time, the Buckeyes trailed 45-39.
"Basically Coach Matta told me to call for it," he said. "Normally I don't do that because that shows signs of selfishness and that's not me. Him being the head coach, you've got to listen to him and that's what I did."
His final basket came on a dunk with 40.2 seconds remaining. It marked the 23rd time in school history that a player had reached the 40-point mark and the first since Dennis Hopson had 41 against Dayton in 1986. For good measure, he added 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
The Jaguars (4-6) simply had no answer for Sullinger, who seemed to get stronger as the game went on. The freshman's 26 points marked more than half of OSU's 40 second-half points and he caused starting IUPUI center Christian Siakam to foul out at the 8:23 mark.
Asked for the best way to stop Sullinger, IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter quipped, "Get him in the draft early."
Hunter's plan was to try and force the Buckeyes to play small and get OSU senior forward Dallas Lauderdale out of the game, forcing the home team to beat them inside. That is exactly what happened, as Lauderdale saw no second-half action.
"We felt like against the zone there was going to be a lot of post (isolations) and we knew they were coming," Matta said. "I thought Jared did a very good job of getting to the basket quick before the double team could get there. He did a good job of getting the position and us getting the ball."
The freshman was also playing with a heavy heart. Sullinger missed the team's shootaround before the game to attend a viewing for his uncle, Harold Sullinger, who passed away Dec. 3.
Afterward, he dedicated his performance to the man known as "Briefy" who had been in attendance during OSU's last home game – a 66-45 victory Nov. 26 against Miami (Ohio).
"It was tough," Sullinger said. "This game does go to him. I can remember the last game he was still here and I could hear him yelling."
IUPUI came out hot in the second half, connecting on its first five shots to turn a 35-all halftime mark into a 45-39 lead that would grow to nine points. But as the natives grew restless, senior guard Jon Diebler immediately answered with a three-pointer to cut the deficit to six at 50-44.
It was the start of a 9-0 run capped by a pair of Sullinger free throws at the 10:13 mark that knotted the score at 50 apiece. In between the baskets by Diebler and Sullinger came a Sullinger dunk on a post feed from junior guard William Buford and a drive from Buford as well that rolled around before falling through the cylinder.
The Jaguars would not go away, however, and tied the score at 52 and again at 54 before Diebler hit a contested three-pointer from the left wing at the 6:53 mark to give the Buckeyes a 57-54 lead.
From there, it was all Sullinger.
The biggest lead of the first half belonged to the Buckeyes, who turned a Thomas fast-break lay-up into a 26-21 lead at the 8:11 mark that coincided with a cold spell for the visitors. After scoring on eight of their first 10 possessions, the Jaguars converted on one of their next seven as OSU put together a 16-7 run.
But behind Alex Young's hot shooting, IUPUI fought back and knotted the score at 28 with 4:08 remaining. The Buckeyes had a chance to head into the locker room with the lead, but junior guard William Buford's jumper from just inside the three-point arc in the final second only drew the front of the iron to set the score at 35-all.
IUPUI shot 51.7 percent (15 of 29) in the first half compared to 48.0 percent (12 of 25) for the Buckeyes. The visitors were aided by a 5-for-10 performance from behind the three-point arc but they did not take a single free throw. In contract, Sullinger finished the stanza 8 of 10 from the charity stripe.
Buford finished with 14 points while Diebler added 13 thanks to 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range. Young led his team with 20 points.
The game marked the second-ever meeting between the two schools. OSU earned an 83-70 victory Dec. 8, 2001, with Boban Savovic leading the way with 25 points for the Buckeyes. The game has since been vacated by the NCAA.
Check back soon for quotes.