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When Ohio State’s complimentary players step up, watch out


Mike Miller

Jared Sullinger is going to get double-teamed just about every single time he touches the ball in the post this season. That’s the way that you have to play him, he’s that good on the block with his back to the basket.

On Saturday, we saw the pitfalls of those double-teams. The biggest Buckeye tried to force his way through the two and three defenders that Michigan State threw at him, and it resulted in a 5-15 shooting performance, 10 turnovers and a hideous, 58-48 loss to the Spartans in Columbus.

Not exactly ideal.

And while it would be easy to pin the blame on Sullinger, the fact of the matter is that he had to force the issue offensively because he had absolutely no support from his teammates. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas, whose roles are to be the guys that take the pressure off of Sullinger, combined to shoot 4-24 from the floor. If Michigan State didn’t face any repercussions from sending triple-teams at Sullinger, why stop doing it?

So would it surprise you that, in Tuesday’s 70-58 win over Minnesota -- when Sullinger had 23 points, eight boards and two assists on 6-11 shooting while committing just a single turnover -- Buford also had a big game? He hit three jumpers in the first 1:45 of the game and scored Ohio State’s first seven and ten of their first 15 points, and his presence as an offensive threat prevented the Gophers from being able to collapse on Sullinger in the post and forget that the rest of his team existed.

Sullinger is a terrific talent, but he is at his best when he’s surrounded by players that are making shots and spreading the floor. More than any other player in the country, Sullinger forces defense to adjust to him. What made Ohio State so dangerous last season is that they had four three-point snipers surrounding him. Any time an opponent was a step slow on a defensive rotation, they paid for it.

The closest Ohio State gets to that kind of offensive attack this season is when both Buford and Thomas are scoring efficiently.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.