Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Ohio State sophomore forward Jared Sullinger sat atop a riser in the interview room at TD Garden after Saturday’s 77-70 win against Syracuse. Senior guard William Buford was seated two seats to Sullinger’s right and clutched the NCAA Tournament East Region championship trophy.
In victory, Sullinger, the East Region’s Most Outstanding Player, acknowledged his primary critics – the media – and thanked them.
Sullinger said he has been and continues to use media scrutiny as motivation, and that’s quite all right with Buckeyes coach Thad Matta.
“I appreciated everyone that doubted us,” Sullinger said after the win. “I want to thank you all because, through the adversity, we constantly pushed through that. I mean, we came from nothing, according to you all, to something.”
Sunday night, Sullinger went on national TV and again thanked his critics in the media, and a third acknowledgement of perceived doubters came during a Tuesday press conference at the Schottenstein Center – three full days since the Syracuse game.
It appears Sullinger might use the media to fuel his competitive fire through the Final Four.
During the Tuesday press conference, he again thanked the media for what he perceived as “negative comments.”
“Like I said after we won against Syracuse, we thank you all for all that criticism that you all gave us,” Sullinger said. “I thought it was awesome that this basketball team took our lumps early and realized that we can actually win.”
After games, Sullinger said he would relay questions from the media to the rest of the team in the locker room. The players took exception and elevated their collective game as a result, he said.
“After the games, you all used to ask us questions – certain questions – that stuck with us, and it kinda stuck with coach Matta,” Sullinger said. “We used to go back into the locker room and we used to tell those guys what we (were) asked. I thought our starting five kind of elevated our games.”
Matta said he doesn’t mind Sullinger and other OSU players feeding off outside criticism.
He said he just wants his team to play its best basketball.
“How they get to where they need to get – I really don’t care,” Matta said.
The OSU coach said he knows what it takes to win during the final week of competition in the college basketball season, having taken the team to the national championship game in 2007. Matta’s Buckeyes defeated Georgetown, 67-60, March 31, 2007, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., before losing to Florida in the title game.
While Matta said he hasn’t been able to identify the different motivating factors players use during his time at OSU, he added that the current squad has found ways to get itself properly prepared for team activities as the season progressed.
“You know, I think that is something that takes time to develop,” Matta said. “Obviously, when you win, you try to study or analyze what happened along the way that made us play this way. But I’ll be honest; I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer for not only this team, but any (OSU) team.
“I think these guys have done a good job over the course of time of finding the importance of preparation for practice and for games that have made them play better.”
The team has few opportunities remaining to prepare itself for games and practices this season as it departs for the Final Four at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans Wednesday.
OSU (31-7) will play Midwest Regional Champion Kansas (31-6) at about 9 p.m. Saturday in a national semifinal game. The winner of the Buckeyes-Jayhawks game will advance to play the winner of the other semifinal contest between South Region champion Kentucky and West Region Champion Louisville.