Sullinger Got Started Against Baylor

It was more than three months ago that Ohio State hosted Baylor for a closed scrimmage. Although exact details remain sketchy, one thing appears certain: it marked the first chance for freshman forward Jared Sullinger to flash his talents and he did not disappoint.

Before the rest of the nation had much of an inkling, Scott Drew gained a first-hand appreciation of what kind of player Jared Sullinger was going to become.

The date was Oct. 30, and Drew's Baylor men's basketball team made a trip to Columbus, Ohio, for a preseason scrimmage against Ohio State. Per NCAA rules, the only onlookers were the two teams themselves, making official statistics impossible to come by.

But as the Bears left Value City Arena, Drew did not need a final box score to realize that big things were in store for Sullinger and the Buckeyes.

"After we got done I talked with our staff and was very impressed with the skill level that they have at the one through four positions," he said. "And then down low, Sullinger was just someone you couldn't guard one on one. We knew at that point they were going to be a great team and be one of the top teams in the country."

One year after reaching the Elite 8, Baylor was ranked 18th in the first Associated Press writers' poll of the season. The Buckeyes were knocked out of the tournament in the Sweet 16 but began the season ranked fourth thanks in part to a talented freshman class headlined by Sullinger.

Now two dozen games into the season, OSU is the nation's only remaining unbeaten team and Sullinger has cemented his status as a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft. He is averaging a double-double with 18.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest.

In the scrimmage against the Bears, Sullinger was likely matched up in the post with freshman forward Perry Jones. The 6-11, 235-pound freshman checks in at No. 2 in's mock NBA draft, two spots ahead of Sullinger, and is averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 rebounds through 22 games.

But as word slowly filtered out, two points became accepted as common knowledge: the Buckeyes had mainly enjoyed the upper hand, and Sullinger had gone off. Although the OSU freshman entered college as the reigning prep national player of the year, the scrimmage served as his first major test.

"It gave him some hope," OSU head coach Thad Matta said of Sullinger's performance. "I don't remember exactly but I think that he played pretty competitive in that environment that day. We had seen that through the course of practice as well."

OSU senior forward David Lighty said Sullinger's efforts against Jones helped the Buckeyes realize that kind of talent was on their roster.

"(He was) doing what he's been doing all season long," Lighty said. "He was sealing the big guy inside and just getting good post position on their centers. He was hitting jumpers as well. That makes it more difficult to guard.

"I think we already knew what he was capable of and already had confidence in him. For him to go out there and do it, we said, ‘OK, we were right.' For him to keep doing what he's doing just makes us more comfortable."

Drew said that he was not surprised by what transpired after seeing Sullinger progress throughout his prep career.

"He's been dominant all season long," the coach said. "Whenever you have a player that is as good as he is, he's tough to guard him one-on-one. You put a great perimeter (game) around him and that's what you're left with. I think he really fits in nicely with their team this year and Thad always does a great job."

More than three months removed from that scrimmage, Matta said he had a hard time believing it had taken place during the same season. However, he helped credit it for the fact that the Buckeyes were able to not have an early-season slip-up.

"That was a good scrimmage for us from the standpoint of we went against a very good, long, athletic basketball team," the coach said. "A lot of times you don't get that as early (as we did). I think that the quickness and the speed that we went against, it was good for our guys. They had great respect for Baylor and what they were bringing back. It was a nice gauge for us as we came out of it."

It was not just Sullinger who impressed, however. Five days later, a number of Buckeyes spoke positively when thinking of how the team performed as a whole. Senior guard Jon Diebler said he liked the fact that OSU had been able to score so effectively without having studied any game film of the opponent. Junior guard William Buford said the players learned that they needed to improve their rebounding efforts.

Drew said that he came away with an appreciation for OSU's entire team.

"What really impressed us was their toughness," he said. "I thought they were very tough defensively. That was something that you could tell that they had. They had an experienced, older group because they understood the importance of the defensive end."

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