Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Jared Sullinger has been worrying more about whistles than winning lately.
The Ohio State men’s basketball sophomore forward said Tuesday a lack of mental focus has been affecting his recent play.
“Honestly, mentally I couldn’t really tell you what’s going on,” Sullinger said. “I’m always thinking about how can I play? Is the ref going to call this foul or is the ref going to call that foul? I’m constantly worrying (more) about the refs than how I’m supposed to play.”
Along with officiating, Sullinger said he has been concentrating too much on negative attention on Twitter and in the media. He said the issues have been “strictly mental.”
“It’s just me letting the refs get to me,” he said. “Or just letting everything on the outside get to me and just letting it start to creep in, and starting to focus on other stuff besides the basketball team and what this team needs me to do for us to win basketball games.”
Sullinger denied that a decision about entering the NBA draft after the season is affecting his performance.
“No, not at all,” he said. “If it was, I would have told you. But it’s not. I can care less what happens after April. Really my focus is on this basketball team and how we can get better.
“I know I’ve probably been being dogged by a lot of people or people are saying I’m not as good as I used to be, but at the end of the day, it’s not about what they think, it’s about how can we win basketball games. If that’s me having eight points and two rebounds or me having 20 points and 12 rebounds, at the end of the day, it’s all about winning, and I can care less what people think.”
The Buckeyes have lost three of five games and have dropped from No. 3 to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 rankings over that span. Sullinger has failed to reach double digits in scoring the last two games and coach Thad Matta seemed to question Sullinger’s intensity following OSU’s most recent loss to Wisconsin Sunday.
“I know this, when (Sullinger) is playing his best basketball, he’s engaged and into it,” Matta said after the 63-60 defeat by the Badgers.
Matta, who spoke with Sullinger privately after the loss, said Sullinger was “tremendous” in practice Monday.
“He was as high-energy and ready to go as I’ve seen him,” Matta said.
OSU has two regular season games remaining, starting with Wednesday’s matchup at Northwestern. Northwestern, led by senior forward Jon Shurna’s 20.1 points per game, is currently on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament with a 17-11 record. A win against the Buckeyes would most likely secure the Wildcats first bid to the NCAA tourney in school history.
Sullinger said the Buckeyes’ recent losses have been tough on the team, but that he is determined to turn things around.
“I don’t accept losing,” Sullinger said. “It’s not a part of my culture, it’s not a part of my family. Honestly it has been hard, but we have to understand that we still have life … if it’s not winning the Big Ten, now it’s playing for a seed (in the NCAA Tournament). As long as my teammates understand that we still have life and we still have a lot of basketball to play, if we want to play it, we have a chance to do something big.”
If OSU is going to advance deep into the postseason, the Buckeyes will surely need Sullinger, generally regarded as the team’s best player, to overcome the outside distractions that have been plaguing him.
“As long as I cut those things out I think I’ll be back on track to doing what I do best,” Sullinger said.
Tipoff Wednesday against the Wildcats is set for 8:30 p.m. in Evanston, Ill.