A game after setting an Ohio State freshman scoring record and leading his team back from a sizable deficit, Jared Sullinger didn’t need to work too hard his last time out.
He probably shouldn’t have to overextend himself Wednesday night, either.
The second-ranked Buckeyes try to move to 9-0 for the second time in three seasons at Value City Arena against Florida Gulf Coast, which has lost its four previous meetings with Big Ten opponents by an average of 24 points.
Sullinger scored 40 points as Ohio State (8-0) beat IUPUI 75-64 on Thursday, and his team certainly needed the monumental effort - which made him the second freshman in conference history to score that many points. The Buckeyes had to rally from nine points down in the second half to stay unbeaten.
They were in control from the start Sunday against Western Carolina. Sullinger scored 17 points in only 22 minutes as Ohio State forced 20 turnovers in an 85-60 rout.
“Coach (Thad Matta) said we need to let them know we are there on defense and force turnovers,” Sullinger said. “The last few practices have been on toughness. I thought we showed that today.”
Sullinger’s certainly been showing the Big Ten what it’s going to have to deal with during conference play starting later this month. He won his fourth league freshman of the week and second player of the week awards on Monday.
About the only potential concern for the Buckeyes was they were outrebounded 39-26. Sullinger, second in the Big Ten at 9.3 boards per game, attributed the disparity to the Catamounts “wanting it more.”
Matta, though, was still pleased with his team’s effort.
“We came out with a little more intensity on defense to start the game, and we shared the ball well on offense, especially in the first half,” Matta said. “Overall, I was pretty pleased with the way the guys played today.”
None of Matta’s five starters played more than 25 minutes, and it seems unlikely they’ll need to be pressed again. Florida Gulf Coast (2-5) hasn’t come within 17 points of its three Big Ten opponents since December 2008, including an 88-60 season-opening loss at Indiana on Nov. 12.
The Eagles won their next two, but have lost their last four by an average of 19.3 points. FGCU shot just 28.8 percent and committed 20 turnovers in a 71-56 loss at Jacksonville on Dec. 4.
“It’s tough to win on the road in conference play when we don’t shoot the ball very well,” coach Dave Balza said.
Starting forward Tim Snyder missed that contest due to the effects of a concussion, and isn’t expected to play Wednesday.
The Eagles should get one big addition in Columbus, however. Junior center Kevin Cantinol - a transfer from Mississippi - should be eligible for the first time after struggling with his GPA since arriving on campus.
The 6-foot-9 Cantinol, a native of the French West Indies, is expected to start.
If FGCU is going to have any chance at competing with the Buckeyes, though, it’ll likely need a big game from Reed Baker. The team’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game, the senior has averaged 25.5 in the Eagles’ two wins.