Purdue (17-3) at Ohio State (20-0)

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Temp: 54° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Tue Jan 25, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—There’s a YouTube video going viral featuring three of top-ranked Ohio State’s players singing—and that’s a very loose interpretation of the word—the Miley Cyrus song, “Party in the USA.”

Produced by game management as a fun way to fill a couple of minutes during timeouts, it’s enough to make dogs bark and children cry.

Yet as off-key as the three players are, they are at the same time disarmingly lacking in self-consciousness and seem to be enjoying themselves. The clip’s good for a laugh and the guys are in on the joke.

The video shows two things.

First and foremost, that the Buckeyes, who take on No. 12 Purdue on Tuesday night, may not be able to hit a note but are still in perfect harmony.

“A lot of people just see the serious side of us in the games,” said senior Jon Diebler, one of the guilty parties in the screech-a-thon. “We’ve got a really good group of guys. We’ve got a lot of different personalities. We’re fun to be around. We’re a very close group.”

The video also might be the only time since they came to college that freshmen Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft have looked out of their element.

“He’s probably the best in college basketball right now at understanding his surroundings and making the right decision when he gets the ball in the post,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Monday of the 6-foot-9 Sullinger. “Whether that’s to attack or pass or dribble out of a double (team). No matter what the situation might be, he just has a lot of poise.”

Sullinger’s numbers are impressive for anyone, let alone a callow first-year player.

He’s averaging 17.9 points a game while shooting 58 percent from the field. Besides averaging 10.2 rebounds a game, he’s adept at drawing fouls on those guarding him—three Illinois players tried to corral him in the Buckeyes’ 73-68 victory on Saturday. He’s gone to the line almost twice as much as anybody else on an Ohio State team that returned four starters from last year’s 29-8 team.

With an outsized rear end that he uses for leverage against defenders, the barrel-chested Sullinger has become a force since arriving from Northland High School in Columbus.

“We didn’t want to foul him. That was one of the big things we talked about, don’t foul him,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said after Sullinger hit for 27 points and 16 rebounds against him. “You gotta give him a little space and just put your arms up because he’s going to come at you.”

The third alleged singer in the video, Craft, has been a revelation for the Buckeyes on the court as they’ve sailed to the third-fastest start in the program’s history (20-0, 7-0 Big Ten).

He comes off the bench—usually replacing 6-8 Dallas Lauderdale during the first timeout—and stays in the middle of the action to the end. At 6-2, he’s a shutdown defender on the opposition’s shooting guard. Craft had primary defensive responsibility on Penn State’s Talor Battle and Illinois’ Demetri McCamey, arguably the two best guards in the Big Ten, and held them to a combined 7 for 28 from the field and 2 for 15 on 3-pointers in two victories last week.

Craft also runs the show on offense, whipping passes to teammates Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford, tossing lobs into Sullinger or flipping in 3s to keep the defense from giving Sullinger too much attention.

“He averaged 27 points a game and his team won a lot of games,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of Craft’s days at a small school outside of Findlay, Ohio. But, Matta added, Craft is playing for the Buckeyes because of his defense.

Purdue is unlike most of the teams the Buckeyes have faced in that the Boilermakers (17-3, 6-1) also have an inside-out game, built around long and talented JaJuan Johnson in the paint (20.5 ppg) and sniper E’Twaun Moore (18.1) on the perimeter.

With only a third of the Big Ten season done, Painter knows there’s a lot riding on the game with the Buckeyes—and a lot of games left.

“That stuff takes care of itself,” he said. “If you want to talk about winning a Big Ten championship, you’re not going to win one. You need to talk about your responsibilities and carrying your responsibilities out.”

The Buckeyes have been a big hit all season—even if their singing debut isn’t.

Diebler showed some senior savvy by getting up and playfully leaving midway through the recording session.

“I know when to stop,” he said. “So I just decided to walk off. Obviously Craft and Jared didn’t. For how bad Jared and I were, I think Craft’s taking most of the punishment.”

Then he burst out laughing.

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