Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor
With the score tied, 17 seconds to play, and a No. 1 ranking and unblemished record at stake, most teams in college basketball would turn to their savvy veteran to deliver the win.
Not Ohio State.
When the Buckeyes’ perfect season was in jeopardy against Northwestern on Saturday night it was freshman forward Jared Sullinger who was called on to lead his team to victory.
“As soon as we got the steal, I looked up and there was 15 seconds on the shot clock,” senior forward David Lighty said. “Coach (Thad Matta) kind of looked at me and I said, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ and they had the play set up for us, and we just ran it right then and there and it worked to perfection.”
“Perfection,” in this case, meant finding Sullinger in the post, where he was able to draw a foul and drain one of his two free throws to secure the nerve-racking 58-57 win.
Despite Sullinger’s relative inexperience at the collegiate level, his teammates said they have total confidence in his ability to deliver.
“That’s a play we like to go to, throw it to him in the post and let him make the best decision,” freshman point guard Aaron Craft said. “He has our confidence to make the right decision. If he is open then he will do what he did tonight, and if not, he’ll make the pass out.”
Sullinger is no stranger to having the ball in his hands with the game on the line. The 6-foot-9 forward led his Northland High School team to a state Final Four appearance in 2008 and won an Ohio state championship the following season.
And although the game programs list Sullinger as a freshman, he said that doesn’t matter once he steps on the court.
“On the court I try to carry myself as a man and just play like a man, like my dad always told me to play like,” Sullinger said. “As soon as I step inside that rectangle, it’s an automatic switch that I have had ever since I was young.”
Matta said he recognizes the freshman’s ability to flip that switch and perform at crunch time. Though Sullinger is just 22 games into his freshman campaign, Matta has no problem putting the game in the star forward’s hands.
“I knew we were going to get a pretty good look at it,” Matta said of his team’s final possession against Northwestern. “He’s got a knack; he’s hit some big shots and some big free throws in his career, and we were pretty pleased.”
The Buckeyes return to action when they host Michigan at 7 p.m. Thursday.