It was just that kind of night for Ohio State’s J.J. Sullinger.
After Sullinger scored 19 first-half points Monday night against Florida A&M, he had a three-pointer go in and out, glance off the backboard and fall through the basket.
Moments later, he outletted to teammate Je’kel Foster, who threw a pass off the backboard to Ron Lewis for a two-hand ram that brought the house down.
All was right with the world, and No. 20 Ohio State was on its way to an easy win.
Sullinger matched his career high with 24 points and Foster added 18 as the Buckeyes took a break from the rigors of the Big Ten and pounded visiting Florida A&M 95-53 before 13,347 at Value City Arena. The win gave OSU a perfect 11-0 nonconference record this season.
“This was a very important game for us,” said OSU coach Thad Matta, whose team improved to 15-3 overall. “This was a big challenge for us to go undefeated in the nonconference season. I couldn’t be happier for them. There are not a lot of teams across the country who can say that.”
Matta was happy to see his team bounce back after a 67-62 loss at Iowa on Saturday. That loss dropped OSU to 4-3 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes are in a three-way tie for fifth, one game behind four co-leaders tied at 5-2.
“We had a long talk after the Iowa game,” he said. “Last night at practice, I thought we were sharp. I was a little bit nervous to see how we would come out. But these guys responded. To come out and compete for 40 minutes like we did, I am very pleased.
“That was a good win for us. Now it’s all Big Ten for us from here.”
Sullinger had only had two double-figure games in 11 outings since netting 23 points in a Dec. 14 win over Belmont. But he hit 3 of his 4 first-half three-point attempts and was on his way to one of his biggest nights as a Buckeye.
“In the first half, I thought James Sullinger was tremendous with the effort and intensity that he played with,” Matta said. “He kind of carried us.”
Sullinger ended up hitting 8 of 12 shots, including 4 of 6 from behind the arc. He also had seven rebounds and three assists.
“It has always been my thing to take open shots,” said Sullinger, who matched the 24-point effort he had in his OSU debut at San Francisco in November 2003. “The first couple of times I caught the ball on the wing they were backing off of me. I was just taking what the defense was giving me.
“Any time you hit your first couple of shots, you get a little bit more confident and your teammates start looking for you a little more. It’s like a snowball and good things happen.”
Foster came out of a recent slump, hitting 7 of 10 shots. He also tallied five steals and three assists for the Buckeyes.
“I credit my teammates,” said Foster, who was 3 of 5 from three-point range. “They did a good job of finding me when I was open. I tried to shoot the same shot and it fell.”
Ivan Harris added 15 points and four rebounds. Matt Sylvester added 14 points, while Terence Dials had six points and 10 rebounds. Lewis added nine points. Jamar Butler did not score, but did dish out eight assists. Sylvester Mayes chipped in three points and six assists.
OSU attempted a school-record 36 three-pointers, making 13 for 36.1 percent. The Buckeyes were 52.1 percent from the floor (37 of 71) and committed 13 turnovers.
Rome Sanders led Florida A&M (10-11) with 15 points. The Rattlers played the second half without leading scorer Tony Tate, who suffered from dehydration. Tate had five first-half points before going to the bench.
“That was our eighth guarantee game this year,” said FAMU coach Mike Gillespie Sr. “We brought in $250,000 for our athletic department. I am happy we are done playing these games. My Preparation H won’t be needed any more.”
Sullinger hit a pair of early three-pointers as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 10-4 lead. A Lewis three-pointer and a baseline jumper by Sylvester pushed it to 17-7 with 13:54 left in the half.
FAMU rallied and cut the gap to 22-19 after a jumper by Jonathan Kelly. But Sullinger hit another three and the Buckeyes were on their way. OSU outscored FAMU 19-10 over the final 6-1/2 minutes of the half. That included 10 points in the final 1:16 as Sylvester rebounded his own miss, Sullinger hit two free throws, Foster buried a three off a feed from Butler in transition and Sylvester canned a three off another Butler feed with 1.5 seconds left to push the halftime lead to 41-29.
“I thought Je’Kel’s shot and then Matt Sylvester’s three at the end of the half were huge,” Matta said. “That gave us some momentum going into halftime. I thought we did a good job of sharing the ball tonight. They kind of forced our hand tonight and we had to shoot the three.”
Ohio State outscored FAMU 54-24 in the second half to win going away. Sullinger’s in-out-and-back-in three-pointer gave the Buckeyes a 49-34 lead with 17:39 left. Foster then poked the ball away to Sullinger, who passed back ahead to Foster. He threw the ball off the backboard to Lewis, whose two-hand ram brought down the house and put OSU up 51-34 with 17:23 left.
“I told (Foster) before he even got the ball – J.J. had the ball – to throw it off the glass,” Lewis said. “We were just playing basketball. It’s in the flow of the game and it was the best pass he could make. It was a good pass.”
Matta missed perhaps the game’s most remarkable play.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “I saw Ron coming through there and I didn’t know how he got the ball. I would probably tell Je’Kel that thing better be completed.”
Foster hit a three and followed with a three-point play for a 59-36 lead with 14:55 left.
The lead reached 31 at 69-38 on Harris’ three off a pass from Sylvester with 11:10 left. Harris’ trey with 2:32 left made it 91-49. The Buckeyes enjoyed their biggest lead at 44 points on Harris’ jam off a lob from Mayes to make it 95-51 with 10 seconds left.
* The win gave OSU a perfect 11-0 nonconference record. It was the school’s first unbeaten showing in nonconference play since the 1990-91 team went 10-0.
It also marks just the sixth time Ohio State has gone unbeaten in nonconference play since it joined the Big Ten for the 1912-13 season. The others were: 1923-24 (5-0), 1926-27 (5-0), 1960-61 (10-0) and 1961-62 (10-0).
* In terms of major conference opponents, FAMU had lost previously to Indiana (100-63), Georgia (95-74), Xavier (79-51), Northern Iowa (76-53), Dayton (73-48) and Florida (84-47). Those were also road games for the Rattlers.
* OSU is now 22-3 in nonconference games under Matta, including 18-0 in home nonconference games. The Buckeyes are now 26-3 overall at home under Matta.
* OSU is now 102-23 in eight seasons at VCA, including 60-6 against nonconference opponents.
* Saturday’s game with Minnesota at Value City Arena will start at 3 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN-Plus as part of the Big Ten regional package across much of the Midwest.
The Gophers (10-8, 1-6) are coming off a 61-42 home win over Indiana on Sunday.