by Brian Burnsed
IU Super Bowl Student News Bureau
INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State’s starting frontcourt weighs a quarter of a ton—far too much heft for Michigan to bear.
In Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinal, sophomores Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas used every ounce of their 490 pounds to dominate and demoralize an undersized and overmatched Michigan team in the Buckeyes’ 77-55 win in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Wolverines’ frontcourt—senior Zack Novak and sophomore Jordan Morgan—yield a combined 30 pounds and four inches to those young Buckeyes, and seemed helpless to stop either.
Sullinger and Thomas combined for 46 of Ohio State’s 77 points in the 22-point rout of the Wolverines. They made 19 of 29 shots. They snatched seven offensive rebounds, contributing to Ohio State’s 19 second-chance points. They didn’t miss a free throw. They led Ohio State to a 40-24 edge in points in the paint, scoring countless more from the periphery of the lane.
“They can catch it off the block and take tough shots,” Morgan said. “When they’re hitting those tough shots, falling away from the basket, 10-foot hooks, there’s really nothing you can do about it. You’re doing your best but they’re in that zone where everything is falling for them.”
Before the game, Ohio State coach Thad Matta told Sullinger and Thomas they’d have to use their physical advantages against the smaller Michigan team if Ohio State were to avenge February’s 56-51 loss at Michigan.
They did. And they made it look easy.
The Wolverines switched on screens repeatedly, allowing Thomas to impose his will — and his size — on Michigan guards and forwards, who were ill-suited to handle his strength in the post.
“Coach said they’re always switching one through four, and they always have small guys on me,” Thomas said. “He said get inside, and use your tools. … With (freshman guard Trey) Burke and Novak, it’s just too easy down there, and I got the job done.”
The Wolverines contained the 265-pound Sullinger in their last meeting with an array of double teams. They held the All-American to 14 points on 6 of 14 from the floor. But Sullinger moved aggressively on Saturday, pushing to the basket before the double team could arrive. This time, nine of Sullinger’s 14 attempts fell and he amassed 24 points.
“Coach told me to attack, then survey,” Sullinger said. “He told me I was surveying too much, letting the defense get set.”
Thomas was equally efficient, notching 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting. He utilized left-handed jump hooks, powerful drop steps and tacked on a pair of 3-pointers. As the defense collapsed around Sullinger, Thomas was free for easy putbacks. He credited his team-high four offensive rebounds to the attention his larger teammate drew.
“That’s how I get all my offensive rebounds,” Thomas said. “(Sullinger) makes my job very easy.”