Jared Sullinger's health is again in question.
Returning to the starting lineup for the first time in three games, Sullinger was supposed to be fully healthy after working out the lingering affects of back spasms against Suth Carolina Upstate Wednesday.
Instead, Sullinger suffered what could be a serious injury to his left foot early in the win against the Gamecocks and didn't return to the contest. He left the arena to get X-rays – which returned negative – but he wasn't seen until there were only three minutes left in the game. He was wearing crutches.
It a big non-conference road win for the Buckeyes – the team's first victory away from Value City Arena this year – but Ohio State could pay the ultimate price in the coming weeks. We break down some observations from the game in the latest version of View From Press Row:
• It's amazing how quickly things change – Ohio State's success is directly contingent on the health of Sullinger. Things were looking up for the big man after he returned from back spasms against South Carolina Upstate with a double-double. Now using crutches to help him get around, Sullinger's status for the future again is in question. Though it is hard to predict how quickly Sullinger can recover from his latest injury, could this be the second setback in a season plagued with injury issues for the big man? That's the last thing Ohio State hopes, but maybe now it is time to really make sure Sullinger is 100 percent before bringing him back onto the floor.
This was the best game of Deshaun Thomas' career – Obviously that's easy to say because he scored a career-high 30 points, but Thomas is looking like a player that many envisioned he'd become a year ago when he went on those scoring tears. Though Thomas has been scoring in a big way, it has come in a different form. He has shot 23-of-31 from the floor for 53 points in the last two games, all of which have come on good shots within the flow of Ohio State's offense.
Thomas, who has played equally impressive basketball on defense, hasn't made many questionable decisions and it looks like his confidence is at an all-time high. He doesn't need to take 15 shots to score 20 points. He hits the offensive boards hard and is always there to put the ball back in after those rebounds. At this point, it's not hard to say that Thomas is playing the best basketball of his career.
Perhaps the biggest upside in Thomas' game is that he's been able to perform this way when his team needed him the most. With Sullinger out of the game and Ohio State facing a four-point halftime deficit, Thomas scored 20 of his 30 points in the second half. Now it looks like Thomas, not senior guard William Buford, has turned into the go-to scoring option in crucial situations.
• Buford had 17 points, but… – am I the only one who feels like there is more to be seen out of him? Not that I want to sound nit-picky, but I envisioned Buford would be the dominant force offensively and lead this team when Sullinger wasn't. Instead, Thomas seems to be the guy that has lifted this team up when it needs it the most and Buford is there to pick up the scraps. Now Buford did make some good plays in the first half to spark an early 7-0 run, but maybe it is just a feel thing. I just don't get the feeling from watching Buford when Ohio State's back is against the wall that I thought I would.
• Evan Ravenel is a role player – But his role on this team is going to be pivotal in the Buckeyes' success, even if Sullinger's injury isn't seriously. Ravenel is a capable big man, but today there were times where it seemed like he allowed his emotions to get the best of him. What he needs to remember is that when he's on the floor it is about rebounds and defense. He's shown the ability to get to the hoop and score, but Ohio State is always going to be vulnerable without Sullinger on the floor, whether it is when he's out with injury or taking a breather on the bench. Ravenel – and to some extent freshman Amir Williams – need to make sure that vulnerability doesn't become the team's downfall.
• Sam Thompson, anyone? - I thought we would see Thompson on the floor in this game after how well he played against Upstate. Instead, Thad Matta stuck with Lenzelle Smith Jr. for most of the game even when the opportunity presented itself for Thompson to get into the game. Credit Smith for scoring five-straight points to spark the run that eventually won Ohio State the game, but without Sullinger on the floor Thompson provides a scoring threat that Smith doesn't. Again, it was another game where the bench was left unused. Had Thompson come in and provided a spark, that would have been the first step toward developing an entity that could prove to be immensely valuable in March.