COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—J.J. Sullinger’s new tights worked for him Monday night.
Sullinger matched his career high with 24 points—scoring 19 in the first half—to lead No. 20 Ohio State to a 95-53 victory over Florida A&M.
Sullinger wore white tights underneath his uniform. He took a lot of razzing for the new look after the game.
“I have no explanation for them,” he said while his teammates cracked up. “I was strolling through the mall today and just picked ‘em up.”
Sullinger, who virtually carried the Buckeyes in the first half, finished 8-of-12 from the field, matched his career high with four 3-pointers in six attempts and—shooting .495 at the free-throw line coming in—was perfect on four foul shots. He also had seven rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes.
“The first couple of times I got the ball on the wing they were sagging off of me,” he said. “I just took what the defense was giving me.”
Je’Kel Foster added 18 points, Ivan Harris 15 and Matt Sylvester 14.
The Buckeyes (15-3) moved to 11-0 against non-conference teams this season, the first year they’ve gone unbeaten outside of the Big Ten since the 1990-91 team went 10-0 while winning its first 17 games.
“At our first practice meeting I put the teams on our schedule on the board and said, ‘Is there a team up there that you don’t think we can beat?”’ coach Thad Matta said. “They said, ‘No, we can do it.’ They got it done. They went on the road to win and they protected their home court.”
The Buckeyes hit just four of their first 17 3-point shots but made two in the final 30 seconds of the half and finished 13-of-36 from behind the arc.
“They forced our hand a little bit by saying, ‘We’re not going to let the ball go inside,”’ Matta said.
Rome Sanders led Florida A&M (10-11) with 15 points. Among A&M’s road losses this season are defeats to Indiana, Georgia, Xavier, Northern Iowa and Florida.
“If they shoot the ball that well every night out, they’re as good as anybody we’ve played,” Rattlers coach Mike Gillespie said. “This is a terrific team.”
Gillespie said he was relieved to get through his own rugged non-conference schedule.
“This our eighth guaranteed game of the year. We’ve brought in $250,000 to help the athletic department,” he said. “I’m so happy that we are done playing these games.”
The Rattlers were making their first appearance in Columbus since the first round of the NCAA tournament two years ago. They hung around with top-seeded Kentucky—trailing by just six points with 13 minutes left—before wilting down the stretch to lose by 20.
Ohio State looked tired and played with little spark in the first half, two days after a 67-62 loss at Iowa that cost it a share of the lead in the Big Ten.
“We had a long talk after the Iowa game,” Matta said. “I was a little nervous to see how we would come out, but the guys have responded pretty well all year.”
Sullinger was the lone Buckeye who didn’t look listless. He hit six of eight shots from the field before halftime, including three of four 3-pointers. He also had three rebounds and two assists.
Ohio State held a 22-19 lead before Sullinger hit his third 3-pointer and then made two free throws. He also had two points in a 7-0 run near the end of the half, helping the Buckeyes to a 41-29 lead at the break.
The Buckeyes opened the second half playing harder on defense and moving the ball better on offense. Foster hit two 3-pointers and had a three-point play, Sullinger made another 3 and Ron Lewis scored on a fastbreak dunk following an assist pass off the backboard by Foster, increasing the lead to 59-36 in little more than 5 minutes.
“Anytime you lose you always want to play another game and get a win under your belt,” Lewis said. “We don’t want to go into the next game looking at a loss.”
Ohio State shot 58 percent in the second half and finished at 52 percent compared to A&M’s 33 percent.
The victory moved Matta to 35-15 in his first 50 games at Ohio State, the third-best record over that span at the school. Fred Taylor and Randy Ayers each went 36-14.