Returning to the lineup after missing two games with back spasms, Jared Sullinger came off the bench for Ohio State and played 24 minutes, including 14 in the first half, before finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds. It was his fifth double-double of the season.
"I've been lobbying all week (to play), but I wasn't cleared until this morning after shootaround," he said. "It felt great to be back out there. I was tired – two weeks off is a killer. I did a lot of work on the treadmill these last few days, but I was still very out of shape tonight."
Deshaun Thomas continued his recent offensive tear, scoring 23 points, which was a season-high and just one short of his career best. Before Thomas found his roll, however, South Carolina Upstate guard Torrey Craig, who scored a team-high 20 points for the Spartans, kept his team in the game early.
Craig knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Spartans the 19-15 with 8:30 remaining in the first half, helping South Carolina Upstate erase the 12-5 advantage the Buckeyes held when Sullinger checked in for the first time with 14:37 remaining in the first half.
The Buckeyes, however, finished the half on a 20-7 run – capped off by a slam by redshirt junior center Evan Ravenel – to take the comfortable 37-28 lead into the half.
"They took the clock down a little bit, moved the ball around and didn't shoot real quick, it lowered their possessions," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, commenting on how the Spartans were able to keep it close for the majority of the first 20 minutes. "I felt like in the first half we didn't quite have the intensity we needed. (Torrey) Craig is a great player."
Matta was under the impression that Sullinger would go through practice to see how his body responds to activity the following day. Instead, Sullinger was cleared this morning when he demonstrated the ability to stretch during physical tests.
After working out yesterday Sullinger responded by feeling 100 percent this morning. After the game the sophomore said he was feeling back to normal and he wasn't apprehensive about how his body will respond tomorrow. Sullinger's first real exposure to contact, however, was in the game.
"I didn't really practice but I had a workout and that's where we evaluated my movement and how I felt the next day and I obviously felt great," Sullinger said. "I first felt pain before the Duke game. It was just tight, I couldn't move. Everybody said it looked like I was running with a stick up my butt, so obviously something was wrong there.
"After the (Duke) game I could barely walk. All the adrenaline went away and then that's when it really tightened up. I just felt like it was a minor setback for a major comeback."
Senior guard William Buford finished the game with 14 points and Ravenel had nine points in 12 minutes. But it was freshman Sam Thompson who may have turned the most heads in his first extended action on the floor.
With Craig keeping the Spartans in the game by scoring eight-straight points during one stretch in the first half, Matta turned to Thompson to help try to slow him down. Matta was impressed by what Thompson was able to do, which the head coach said he had seen consistently in practice.
"Sam has been doing a good job," Matta said. "He's starting to understand and pick things up. He just wants to win. He understands the game and I was very pleased with how he played."
Ohio State is next in action Saturday when it travels to South Carolina.