Ohio State probably could have gotten by this week without a banged-up Jared Sullinger. The star forward, though, doesn’t want to miss any time with Big Ten play approaching.
The second-ranked Buckeyes play their final non-conference game Thursday night when they meet Miami of Ohio at Nationwide Arena.
Ohio State (11-1) didn’t have Sullinger healthy in three of its last four games before the sophomore returned Tuesday night against Lamar. He missed a 64-35 win over Texas-Pan American on Dec. 3 and a 78-67 loss at then-No. 13 Kansas on Dec. 10 due to back spasms.
He returned from that ailment to play 25 minutes in an 82-58 victory over South Carolina Upstate four days later, but only managed to be on the court for six minutes Saturday after suffering a foot injury in a 74-66 win at South Carolina.
Sullinger, though, shrugged off his latest injury and had game highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds while playing 30 minutes in the 70-50 home win over Lamar.
“I missed too much,” he said. “The back spasms and now the foot, I’ve got to get back into the routine. I can’t really sit here and wait for it to heal up. By that time, I won’t have my timing down on plays, defensively or offensively. So I had to get back as soon as possible.”
Coach Thad Matta was glad to see Sullinger get back into the mix.
“It’s the unknown - is this guy going to play, is he going to practice, how good is he if he does,” Matta said. “Without question those are some of the things that play into it. Hopefully now we’re getting him back and we can continue to see the improvement on a daily basis.”
Sullinger had 12 points last season as Ohio State beat Miami 66-45. Deshaun Thomas scored 15 in that matchup, and he continued his recent run of success with 16 against Lamar.
Thomas, named the Big Ten player of the week Monday, is averaging 22.0 points and shooting 63.2 percent (36 for 57) over the last four games. His streak of 17 consecutive made two-point field goal attempts ended on his first shot Tuesday.
The RedHawks led 35-26 at halftime and 44-36 early in the second half, but a 16-2 run put Evansville up 52-46 with 11:58 left. Miami rallied to pull within one with 6:40 remaining before a 7-2 spurt sealed it for the Aces.
Julian Mavunga and Brian Sullivan had 18 points apiece to pace the RedHawks. Mavunga added 12 rebounds and five assists, and he leads Miami with averages of 20.3 points and 10.8 boards.
The senior forward missed eight of 12 shots and was held to 11 points while playing all 40 minutes against Ohio State last season.
These teams are meeting at Nationwide Arena because the NCAA requires a game to be played by the host school at the venue where NCAA tournament games will be held.