October 23, 2014

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NCAA tournament: Basketball in his blood for OSU’s Jared Sullinger

CLEVELAND — Freshman sensation Jared Sullinger has been the go-to guy for Ohio State this season, and he credits his playing style and his demeanor to the basketball men in his life.

“With the family I have, with two older brothers that played D-I (college basketball) and my dad coaching at the high school and the D-III level of college, you really get a lot of knowledge out of them … they really help you out,” Sullinger said.

Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, front center, watches his half-court shot attempt along with his teammmates, from left, Deshaun Thomas, Dallas Lauderdale, Jordan Sibert, David Lighty, William Buford and head coach Thad Matta during Thursday’s practice at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (AP photo.)

Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, front center, watches his half-court shot attempt along with his teammmates, from left, Deshaun Thomas, Dallas Lauderdale, Jordan Sibert, David Lighty, William Buford and head coach Thad Matta during Thursday’s practice at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (AP photo.)

Sullinger’s brother James is better known to Buckeyes fans as J.J. after a solid career at Ohio State in the early 2000s. Jared’s other older brother Julian played for Kent State a few years ago, and his father Satch was a star at Oberlin College in the 1970s, and returned to coach the Yeomen in the ’90s.

“With a family like that, you really understand,” Jared said. “They told me there’s no tomorrow when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. It’s win and advance, and that’s it.”

Sullinger already has shown he can stand the pressure. He had long postseason runs while starring at Northland High — where his father’s coaching his final season and competing for a regional championship Saturday night — and led the Buckeyes in points (17.2 per game) and rebounds (10.1) this season.

“My goodness, we’re on the road with 20,000 people against us and he’s got ice water in his veins,” senior guard David Lighty said.

Sullinger gives the credit to his kin, and also took time to praise the Lorain County city where his father took him as a young boy.

“When my dad was there at Oberlin, I was pretty much with him all summer,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool city.”

No big Matta

Buckeyes coach Thad Matta was asked whether it was tough being the basketball coach at a football school like Ohio State.

“When I was at Xavier, I was probably the biggest college football fan you could ever find because there was nothing to do on Saturdays,” he said. “I became the biggest Ohio State fan, but I had never been to a game in the ’Shoe. I remember the first one I went to, Cincinnati kicked off to us and we went four-and-out, and when the punter was running on the field, 105,000 people started booing.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ ”

Matta has become good friends with head football coach Jim Tressel, and said the two programs complement each other.

“I remember we were in Coach Tressel’s office one day and we were with a recruit and (Tressel) said our goal is to win the national championship in football and basketball in the same year,” Matta said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s going to happen.’ I’ll be darned if Year 3 we both played for it and didn’t get it done.”

Matta was also asked what he thought about Tressel apologizing for being a distraction to the Buckeyes basketball team after the football coach was thrust into the national spotlight last week because of his concealment of wrongdoing in his program.

“He need not do that,” Matta said of the apology. “He’s helped this program immensely. He’s addressed the team this year and he follows everything that we’re doing. We’re greatly appreciative for that.

Near history

Matta was an assistant coach on the Western Carolina team that nearly became the first No. 16-seeded team to knock off a top seed during the 1996 NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts pushed No. 1 Purdue to the brink, but the Boilermakers pulled out a 73-71 victory.

“That team was so unique,” Matta said. “We started the season 0-6 and we even lost to a Division II team. But they started to mold together and we really had some good players on that team.”

It was Western Carolina’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament and Matta and his players knew they were destined to be a No. 16 seed.

“(Purdue) going in, we felt was the worst or the weakest of the top four seeds,” he said. “I remember when Kentucky went up there (on the bracket) — they’re the team that won it all that year — our entire fan base cheered because we didn’t have to play them.”

No regrets

When senior Lighty was being recruited by Matta, the rule that NBA players needed to be a year removed from their high school graduation had not been put into action. He was asked if he had ever thought what life might be like if he hadn’t chosen to come to Ohio State.

“Not at all — I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Lighty said. “Going through my five years at Ohio State is something that’s pretty much making me the person that I am. I’m about to graduate (with a degree in consumer affairs) on Sunday and a lot of people can’t say that. So going through my whole college and basketball careers has changed me for the better.”

Buckeye bits

  • Ten of Ohio State’s opponents this season are in the NCAA Tournament field, and the Buckeyes hold a 15-2 record against them. The losses came on the road to Wisconsin and Purdue, while they picked up three wins against Michigan and Penn State, two against Illinois and one against Oakland, Florida State, Morehead State, Purdue, Florida, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
  • Ohio State has never met today’s opponent — the University of Texas-San Antonio — but is 3-0 all-time against the Roadrunners’ Southland Conference. The Buckeyes have beaten Texas-Arlington twice, and McNeese State once.
  • This is Ohio State’s 23rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and the Buckeyes have a 39-21 all-time record. They have played in nine Final Fours and captured their lone national championship in 1960.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.