Sullinger scored a game-high 26 points -- on 11 of 15 shooting from the floor -- to lead the Buckeyes to a 95-87 win over the Coaches vs. Cancer All-Stars in their opening exhibition game before 13,503 Friday night at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes led 46-42 at halftime and broke open a seven-point game late with a 9-0 run to win going away.
"It was a great feeling," said Sullinger, a transfer from Arkansas and a native of nearby Worthington. "The fans here are second to none here at Ohio State. It was great to get out here tonight and see them. This was a dream come true for me. Since I was 2 years old, I have always wanted to be a Buckeye and it finally came true tonight. I am blessed.
"I just had buckets falling early. That always gives you confidence," added Sullinger, who hit all three of his three-point tries.
Guard Tony Stockman, a Medina, Ohio, native transferring in from Clemson, also debuted and scored 17 points and dished out five assists in 27 minutes.
"This was very exciting," said Stockman, who hit 6 of 10 shots from the floor including 3 of 6 from behind the arc. "This is what we've been waiting on, me and J.J. to play. It was exciting to play and to get the win and get ready for the season."
Terence Dials, playing for the first time since injuring his back in a game at Pittsburgh last December, added 14 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. Matt Sylvester chipped in 13 points as well.
OSU coach Jim O'Brien took some of the steam from the win afterwards when he told reporters about the gravity of the situation with his voice. He underwent neck surgery Oct. 1 to correct a herniated disk, but it has left one of his two vocal cords paralyzed (see below).
O'Brien started Brandon Fuss-Cheatham at the point, Stockman at the shooting guard, Sullinger at small forward, Dials at power forward and Velimir Radinovic at center. In the second half, Sylvester replaced Fuss-Cheatham with Stockman sliding to the point and Sullinger moving to the two.
"I planned on doing that before the game started," O'Brien said. "I think we are a lot quicker with Fuss, but we may have a chance to score a little bit with Matt because Matt can score."After leading 11-10 at the first TV timeout, OSU reeled off nine straight points to go up 20-10. Stockman scored on a layup and buried a three. Then Radinovic scored on a slam off an inside pass from Shun Jenkins. Sylvester capped the run with a 14-point jumper.
Sylvester's one-hand baseline drive gave OSU its last 10-point lead of the half at 22-12 with 11:14 remaining.
Coaches vs. Cancer began chipping away and got the lead down to 29-28 on two free throws by Tony Robertson with 6:16 left. OSU still led 41-36 with 3:12 left after Sullinger canned a three and made a nice double clutch bank shot in transition.
But CVC reeled off six straight points to go ahead 42-41 on Mike Campbell's layup in transition with 1:17 left.
Ohio State bounced back, though, as Fuss-Cheatham hit a three-pointer with 1:06 left. Then, Nick Dials intercepted a deep CVC pass and dished upcourt to Sylvester. His jumper was off the mark, but Nick Dials corralled the rebound and banked in a shot with 1.2 seconds left to stake OSU to a 46-42 lead at the intermission.
The Buckeyes jumped on CVC to open the second half, scoring seven straight at one point to go up 55-46 with 16:55 left in the game. Sullinger began the run with a layup. Sylvester then hit a jumper off an inbounds pass and Stockman capped it with a three.
The OSU lead climbed as high as 11 when Sullinger went baseline and scored on a nifty scoop shot and was fouled. His free throw put the Buckeyes up 76-65 with 6:59 left.
CVC cut the lead down to 80-73 after Robertson buried a three with 4:57 left.
But this is when the Buckeyes embarked on their game-clinching 9-0 run. Sullinger started it with a two-hand jam off a rebound. Stockman added a basket before Sullinger got a layup off a turnover. Dials then completed a three-point play to put OSU up 89-73 with 3:09 left.
Robertson led CVC, now 1-3 on its college exhibition tour, with 28 points. Former TCU star Greedy Daniels added 14 points.
OSU hit 57.8 percent of its shots from the floor (37 of 64), including 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) from behind the three-point line. Radinovic had nine points and seven rebounds. Fuss-Cheatham, Nick Dials and Shun Jenkins all had five points. Ivan Harris had one point in 13 minutes, while Ricardo Billings was scoreless in nine minutes.
OSU's second and final exhibition game will be next Thursday against the EA Sports East All-Stars. OSU will then open the season Nov. 21 at San Francisco on its way to a three-game engagement at the Maui Invitational Nov. 24-26.
O'Brien's Career In Jeopardy?
O'Brien spoke with the media for the first time this season after the game, sounding a distressing tone that his career could be in jeopardy if his voice does not improve.
Since the surgery, O'Brien's normally raspy voice has been reduced to somewhat of a whisper. He made his return to practice just this past week.
"I get the sense from talking with the doctors involved, this could be an ongoing situation for me throughout the entire season," O'Brien said. "In the simplest terms, I had disk surgery. Sometimes, I understand, by having disk surgery, there is the potential for vocal cord damage, which is what I had.
"One of my vocal cords is paralyzed. We are working on different cures and treatments, but it is a little stressful to speak in a normal voice. I do not want my condition to be a distraction. I think we have a chance to be a good team. I don't want it to be a distraction in any way."
O'Brien used a microphone in practice this past week to communicate.
"It affects my ability to communicate, yes," he said. "It has to get better if I'm going to continue my coaching career. I think it can get better. They think it will regenerate on its own with nerve and the vocal cord.
"There may be more surgical options to repair it. I want to coach these kids. It's something I have to deal with. I will try and do what I can. I don't want to become a distraction. We'll have to see where this goes."