COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's Jared Sullinger is worth every bit of the hype. A strong contender for National Freshman of the Year, if not National Player of the Year, Sullinger could give the Buckeyes the missing piece they've long desired when it comes to that elusive second national championship.
Darrin Horn knew it, and elected to let Sullinger be himself.
"We knew he was capable of a big night," Horn said after Sullinger roasted South Carolina for 30 points and 19 rebounds in a 79-57 win on Saturday. "We really wanted to try to focus on shutting down their 3-pointers, and limiting them in transition and on the glass. Just philosophically, any time you play a great team ... when a team's really good, it's because they're good everywhere. If you try to take it all away, you're going to end up taking nothing away."
The Gamecocks (7-2) did shut down the No. 2 Buckeyes' long-range threats. Ohio State only hit four 3-pointers, with specialist Jon Diebler shooting two of them (he had nine in his last game).
But foul trouble and a lapse in rebounding, combined with Sullinger's play, sunk USC.
The Buckeyes scored 18 points off 15 USC turnovers. They also out-rebounded the Gamecocks 44-35, which was hardly surprising considering their severe advantage in post height and weight, plus early foul trouble on Malik Cooke and Damontre Harris.
Ohio State's dominance in the lane also knocked USC from its desired offensive plan -- working the ball in to Sam Muldrow and kicking back out to a 3-point shooter. Muldrow's only four points at the half were from a 3-pointer and a free throw, after the guards couldn't weave between the Buckeyes' perimeter defense, and although he finished with 14, most were from outside jumpers.
"They just out-hustled us," guard Bruce Ellington said. "They out-rebounded us, they out-played us."
"I don't think we did a good job of looking to throw it in early and I think most of that was underneath," Horn said. "We weren't concerned about interior guys so much, it was the perimeter guys we were concerned with."
SWAT TEAM: A bright spot of the game was five blocks by USC, three from Johndre Jefferson. The senior played a season-high 21 minutes after Cooke, then Harris, had to sit down, scoring his only two points on a nasty one-handed tomahawk dunk and also getting four rebounds.
He swatted Sullinger in the first half and Jefferson blocked Dallas Lauderdale and Diebler as well. Muldrow had the Gamecocks' other two blocks to move him to 57 off Brandon Wallace's school record (249).
DISHING: Ellington played his best game in terms of ball-handling in the past six games. The freshman had five assists to just one turnover, although foul trouble put the team's leading scorer on the bench and he only scored six.
Still, he continues to grow as a point guard. The past two games each featured two assists and six turnovers, while Ellington had been 3-to-1, 8-to-6 and 1-to-1 in the three before those.
B-RICH: Freshman Brian Richardson has been a pleasant surprise, which is why he continues to start. The rookie, who took over when Ramon Galloway had to miss some early games with a fractured foot, continues to do many things well, Horn saying several times that Richardson "can just hoop."
The Gamecocks are hoping the small slump he's in gets broken -- soon.
Richardson was 2-of-9 for six points against Ohio State, missing two chip-shot layups and two wide-open 3-pointers from the corner (which as he's said, is his shot). Richardson was 0-for-3 for two points in the last game against Wofford, which followed back-to-back 12-point performances.
LET ME SPIN: The last time sophomore Stephen Spinella entered a Big Ten arena, he scored a then-career high 10 points. Coming into another on Saturday, the thinking was that he could perhaps do it again.
He had one point and one assist in nine minutes.
Spinella's numbers and minutes have decreased since the season's beginning, the guard struggling to find ways to score and unable to harness the aggressiveness that had him playing so well at first. By concentrating on his defense first, then showing off an ability to drive the lane instead of simply launching from the 3-point line, Spinella had his 10-point game, then a 15-point game in the next action against Radford.
Since then, Spinella has only scored six points, five in a win over Delaware State. His minutes have gone from 58 minutes in the first three games to 69 in the last six, and he only has five rebounds after 11 in the first three.