March 10, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Jared Sullingerstill relishes carrying the load.
Sullinger had a season-high 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help No. 7 Ohio State beat Purdue 88-71 on Friday night in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
“Honestly, not trying to toot my own horn, we played through me,” the 6-foot-9, 265-pound forward said. “I thought that was the biggest key to this game. Our guards found a way to find me in the post.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter agreed with him.
“When things get sticky, you have to get it to your horse and Jared Sullinger’sa horse, man,” Painter said. “He’s a great player and we had to do a better job of keeping it out of the post and not in his hands. But that’s easier said than done. When we had size in there, he still had a lot of success. I’m just impressed with him.”
Thomas had 22 points and seven rebounds and Buford scored nine of his 11 points in the second half for the third-seeded Buckeyes (26-6). Ohio State shot 61 percent to post its second-best scoring output of the season and outrebounded Purdue 39-28.
The Buckeyes will play No. 10 Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines defeated Minnesota 73-69 in overtime in an earlier quarterfinal.
D.J. Byrd scored 20 points and Terone Johnson added 15 for the Boilermakers (21-12). Robbie Hummel, Purdue’s top scorer, finished with six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
The Boilermakers made 12 of 26 from 3-point range but were overwhelmed by Ohio State’s size and athleticism in the paint.
Purdue missed its first five shots to fall behind 7-0, and the deficit increased to 19-11 before the Boilermakers rallied. Byrd hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to cut Ohio State’s lead to 33-30.
Hummel stuffed Sullinger’s shot on one end and Anthony Johnson made a 3-pointer on the other end to trim Ohio State’s lead to 35-33. Sullinger’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds left in the first half gave the Buckeyes a 40-36 lead at the break.
Ohio State shot 60 percent from the field in the first half, but Purdue hung tough by making 6 of 13 from long range.
The Buckeyes pushed their lead to 52-41 early in the second half after Sullinger scored six points during an 8-0 run.
“Finally we broke down and had that run,” Sullinger said. “Our communication was great. Like coach (Thad) Matta always tells us, when we’re talking on the defensive end, that always carries over to our offense.”
Byrd drained another 3 to trim Ohio State’s lead to 62-59, but the Buckeyes took over from there. Buford came back with a three-point play, Thomas scored on a putback, Sullinger scored on a post-up against Hummel and Buford converted another three-point play to give the Buckeyes a 72-61 lead with 5:23 remaining. A 3-pointer by Buford bumped the lead to 14, and the Buckeyes remained in control from there.
“We were poor in transition and couldn’t get some shots to fall and we obviously couldn’t keep them off the glass or keep the ball from going inside,” Painter said. “That combination just kind of sealed the deal for Ohio State.”
The Buckeyes were pleased with their effort against a Purdue squad that had averaged nearly 79 points in its previous five games.
“I think we eventually locked down on defense,” Sullinger said. “We stepped letting them get to the basket. We just played together and we had five guys connecting on defense and when we do that, it’s pretty hard to score against us.”
Matta expected a tough game. The Buckeyes beat Purdue 87-84 in their regular-season meeting, and Purdue was coming off a victory over Nebraska on Thursday and had won three of four.
“We knew Purdue was going to come with great energy off the win from last night,” he said. “When they threw it up today, I was kind of curious at how we would play in a tournament environment. I think we can continue to grow.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap