Jared Sullinger was finally supposed to be back in full health. All that ended up mattering in No. 2 Ohio State’s 75-66 win over South Carolina Saturday, however, happened to be that Deshaun Thomas was.
Returning to the starting lineup for the first time in three games, Sullinger left the floor midway through the first half and didn’t return to the game after suffering an injury to his left foot.
The Buckeyes, all of a sudden without its big man yet again in a critical non-conference road contents, turned to Thomas to ensure the team wouldn’t suffer its second loss away from home in as many tries.
Thomas didn’t let his team down, as he scored a career-high 30 points, grabbed six rebounds – five on offense – and provided a consistent spark for a team that struggled to find its mark offensively a week ago in a loss at Kansas without Sullinger on the floor.
Sullinger attempted to return to the floor after initially hurting his foot, but the sophomore played roughly three minutes before coming out of the game for good. Sullinger went to the locker room before leaving Colonial Life Arena for X-Rays.
The test came back negative for fractures for Sullinger, but he didn't return to Ohio State’s bench until there was only 3:46 remaining in game and he was under the aid of crutches. The severity of his injury remains to be seen and it remains unclear how much time he’ll miss moving forward.
Ohio State trailed four points at halftime and found itself back to the drawing board without its most productive player, but the Buckeyes allowed a quick boost from Lenzelle Smith Jr. to spark a much-needed 7-0 run.
Ohio State trailed by six points early in the second half, but Smith had an offensive rebound and putback and a three-pointer – only his fifth of the season – on consecutive possessions to spark a 12-2 run. Ohio State grabbed the 51-47 lead with 15:02 remaining.
That’s where Thomas picked up the pace. Scoring 11 points in less than four minutes of game time, Thomas helped the Buckeyes extend its led to 57-46. South Carolina, who saw its leading scorer Malik Cooke leave the game twice in the second half after suffering a cut to his eye, was left with less than 10 minutes to erase the Buckeyes’ lead.
The Buckeyes looked to be positioning themselves to win easily in the first half, as a quick 7-0 run extended their lead to 18-11 with 10:30 remaining. The run was in response to a South Carolina burst that brought the Gamecocks (4-6) even at 11.
Thomas set up senior William Buford for an easy three with a clever fake in the paint to kick off the run. Buford returned the favor on the following possession after an Ohio State defensive stop by finding Thomas for bucket after penetrating the paint.
After another defensive stop, sophomore Jordan Sibert floated a touch pass in transition to Buford, who finished with an easy layup. However, Sullinger left the game shortly after the run and South Carolina closed the first half by outscoring the Buckeyes 22-11.
Buford finished the game with 17 points – including an impressive 3-pointer with less than two minutes remaining in the game with late in the shot close to seal the game – but the senior shot only 5-of-14 from the floor. He also registered five assists.
Redshirt junior Evan Ravenel, who was given the task of replacing Sullinger once it was clear he wouldn’t be returning, finished with five points. However, he was limited to only 18 minutes after picking up four relatively quick fouls.
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