7-Foot Challenge Key For Sullinger

Jared Sullinger has faced questions about a potential lingering injury and the Ohio State big man has sworn he's healthy. In a matchup with Gonzaga's 7-foot big man Robert Sacre, the Buckeyes are depending on their big man to play with explosiveness he's seemed to lack.

Once a sure-fire NBA lottery pick and the player unanimously considered to be the best big man in college basketball, Jared Sullinger has noticed a gradual shift in the conversation surrounding him.

As he sat in his locker during an interview session fielding questions about Ohio State's looming matchup against Gonzaga – which tips at approximately this afternoon 2:45 p.m. – inquiries from reporters were about his perceived lack of explosiveness or his struggles with lengthy defenders.

A far cry from the every-day questions of the past regarding his NBA future or how teams would try to defend him, Sullinger found himself trying to explain how he's going to overcome the defense of 7-foot Bulldogs center Robert Sacre.

"I just keep playing my game," Sullinger said. "I think that's what makes me, me. I don't change my game for anybody. I don't care how big you are, how physical you are, how tall you are, you've just got to keep playing your game. It is what it is."

Sullinger has earned the reputation as someone who has struggled against taller, more lengthy big men. Former AAU teammate Adreian Payne, now with Michigan State, was one player that seemed to give Ohio State's 6-9 All-American issues.

But then there's the perceived lack of explosiveness that Sullinger seemed to sport with relative ease early in his career. Some ponder whether Sullinger is dealing with a foot injury that has him playing less than 100 percent.

Sullinger promises he's healthy, though. He swears there are no lingering foot issues from earlier in the season or any new problems that arose during the course of the physical Big Ten schedule.

Second-seeded Ohio State's season could depend on his health and ability to overcome Sacre if it wants to advance against No. 7 Gonzaga in the third round of the NCAA Tournament East Regional.

"I don't think he'll have any issues playing his game and doing what we need him to do," said junior Evan Ravenel, Sullinger's roommate. "He's one of the best players in the country and we believe he is ready to help us achieve our goals."

Sacre had an impressive performance in Gonzaga's opening-game 77-54 blowout win of West Virginia Thursday. The Buckeyes saw Sacre's physically imposing body disrupt the Mountaineers' interior defense for 14 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot.

"You want to just limit his touches. He's a great player, especially when he gets the ball," Sacre said of Sullinger. "He likes to get the ball in deep, so you want to keep him from getting the ball in so deep near the basket and make sure you limit his touches. So make sure he doesn't get easy baskets, keep him off the glass. That's another way he gets easy baskets."

Sacre was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the All-West Coast Conference and his prowess in that area of the game has him projected as a second-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft by NBADraft.net.

Though Sullinger scored the first six points for Ohio State in the Buckeyes' win against Loyola (Md.) on Thursday, but the big man finished with 12 points. Sullinger seemed to lack explosiveness at times around the basket, and it resulted in multiple shots blocked by the undersized Greyhounds.

"I haven't seen him struggling that much," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "I mean, he seems like he's very smart, takes what people give him. He's one of those players that has just a great touch. His ball goes in, sits up on the rim, always kind of rolls in.

"You know, I mean, Rob is as good a defender as we've had in there. We're not going to probably leave him out on an island either. We'll play around with some different things."

Sullinger said he rushed his moves against the Greyhounds and didn't get a close feel for what they were doing defensively. Meanwhile, Deshaun Thomas was on his way to scoring a career-high 31 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Perhaps Sullinger doesn't have anything to prove in his mind, but how he plays could be the difference between a deeper NCAA Tournament run or an early exit for Ohio State.

"He knows we have confidence in him," Thomas said. "We just are trying to get this win."

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