View From Press Row: Purdue

The Ohio State basketball team came up with a win in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Friday night. For observations and analysis from the 88-71 win over Purdue, go inside.

Jared Sullinger walked into Ohio State's locker room after Ohio State's 88-71 win over Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and it was immediately apparent that he was rejuvenated.

Sullinger disrupted reporters' interview attempts, he poked fun at his teammates, and the smile he sported on his face was as vibrant as it has been all season.

Maybe it was because he just converted on 12-of-17 field goals for 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, registering perhaps his most impressive single-game performance of his sophomore year.

Sullinger, however, said the big performance came after the realization that he hasn't been himself for much of the second half of the season.

"My support system," Sullinger said. "They told me I don't smile enough. They said when I am smiling and having fun, my game comes out. I have been listening to them and it is actually helping my game because I am not focused on outside things."

The focus around Sullinger in the past few weeks hasn't been what you'd expect out of perhaps the best college basketball player in the country, as thoughts about a potential foot injury, being distracted by referees, and his mythical irritation about the lack of touches in the paint were the main focus.

But if the Buckeyes (26-6) want to make the trip to the Final Four many predicted before the season, talk must revert back to the dominant force Sullinger is in the paint. In Ohio State's first postseason game, Sullinger's performance lived up to those expectations.

William Buford knows his role – William Buford sat confidently in his locker after the game and looked me in the eye and said – "I know this team goes as far as I take it." For someone who has developed a reputation for not showing up in big games, Buford understands his responsibility to this team and has seemingly harnessed that confidently. Though he scored only 11 points in the win, the senior stepped up big during Ohio State's 17-2 run that put the game away.

Perhaps Buford has been able to turn over a new leaf, especially after delivering Ohio State a Big Ten title with a last-second shot at Michigan State last weekend. Buford mentioned his legacy plenty of times during my interview with him, but never did he acknowledge the Kentucky game from a year ago. He said he wants to leave a lasting impression on this year's team, and something in his eyes gives me the gut feeling that he is more prepared than ever to step up for this team.

Deshaun Thomas is playing very good basketball – Show me a game where Sullinger, Buford and Thomas play this well all in the same game and Ohio State lost. Give up – you can't do it. The Buckeyes' "Big Three" all showed up and Thomas was just as impressive as Sullinger. In 38 minutes of action, Thomas scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. Perhaps the best gratifying part of his game tonight, at least from the coaches' eyes, was on a sequence in the first half where he used a shot fake on the baseline, dribbled toward the hoop and buried a higher percentage shot. If he takes it one step further and finds an open guy for an easy layup, I say that's some serious progress. In all seriousness, when Thomas goes 9-for-13 from the floor Ohio State doesn't lose many games.

The most impressive thing Thomas does comes on the offensive glass. Maybe he is so motivated to score that he'll do anything to grab offensive boards and put them back up, but the motivation doesn't matter. Multiple times in this game Thomas grabbed rebounds that seemed unthinkable and put them back into the hoop. On a few times, it came in crucial situations where Purdue was close to erasing Ohio State's lead.

There's no telling just how far Thomas will be able to take his current hot streak, but is it unthinkable that he could pull a Mike Conley Jr. and lead this team deep into the NCAA Tournament before bolting to the NBA? I think we're getting ahead of ourselves with that thought, but Thomas is most certainly playing the best basketball of his career. If he keeps this up – especially on the glass – its hard to imagine the Buckeyes losing early in the tournament this year.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quietly efficient – Ohio State won't lose a game in the NCAA Tournament where all five scorers get to double-digits. Though that won't happen very often, it's hard not to be impressed by what Smith was able to accomplish under the radar. The sophomore converted on 5-of-9 field goals for 11 points, played solid defense, and didn't turn the ball over. It doesn't always have to be huge game or bust game for Smith. If he can somehow find a way to be quietly consistent and score in the neighborhood of eight points while playing solid defense and protecting the ball, I think he's doing his job. Tonight, at least to me, was the perfect game for what OSU needs Smith to do.

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