Cody Cousino / Photo editor
The score 78-67 still sends Ohio State sophomore forward Jared Sullinger on a guilt trip.
The painful reminder of a score comes from OSU’s loss at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., 78-67.
Sullinger, who averaged more than 17 points and more than nine rebounds per game this season, was unable to play in the Dec. 10 game against Kansas due to back spasms.
It’s a result that could give Sullinger extra motivation in the rematch against Kansas in the Final Four Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Sullinger said he felt like he let the team down that day.
“When that final buzzer went off and we got done shaking hands (and) I walked off the court, … I felt like the weight was on my shoulders,” Sullinger said. “I just felt like everything was my fault, so I kind of take that as a little motivation heading into New Orleans and getting ready to play Kansas.”
But Sullinger said he felt it was the KU game where other players got a chance in the paint.
“I thought that’s where it all started,” he said. “With me not playing and (other players) playing a high impact game.”
Sullinger fought to regain physicality and strength through water workouts , and said it wasn’t easy, but it elevated his game as the season progressed.
“At the time, it was very tough for me to make baskets when you’re going up and down the floor a couple times,” he said. “So right in the middle of February, that’s when I felt like I got my conditioning back.”
But Sullinger said OSU has no advantage against KU just because he will be on the court this weekend.
“Whoever comes out and plays the hardest and doesn’t quit … that’s going to be the key to the game,” Sullinger said.
Sophomore guard Aaron Craft agreed with Sullinger that both teams have changed since December. Kansas is a much better basketball team since they last met OSU, he said, but so are the Buckeyes.
“Even if we didn’t have Jared, we would be a better basketball team,” Craft said. “It’s not about a game we had back in December. That’s such a long time ago, and so much has happened. So we’re trying to do a great job of focusing on this game and focusing on what they’re doing great at this time of the year, and just trying to execute our game plan to the best of our ability, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Craft said adjusting without Sullinger was something the team has had to do all season, but it has in turn helped the team.
“We’ve had to deal with him (missing three games this season), and I think it’s helped us to get to this point,” Craft said.
Coming off the bench, junior forward Evan Ravenel scored nine points and five rebounds during the December match against Kansas and after getting into foul trouble against Syracuse, Craft said the bench players work just as hard and their offense isn’t a one-man show.
“We have great confidence in them. They may not be able to do some things that Jared can, but they play just as hard and can do some things that maybe Jared can’t,” Craft said.
Sullinger said the team took their lumps early in the season and is better for the struggles, including that 78-67 loss that it pains him to recall.
“With a young basketball team like this and the way we responded through everything that happened with us, I think it made us stronger as a basketball team,” he said.
OSU will tip against Kansas Saturday at about 9 p.m.