Not much has slowed Jared Sullinger since his arrival at Ohio State.
Meyers Leonard will be the next to try and neutralize the star sophomore forward Tuesday night when Illinois hosts the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.
Coach Thad Matta's team is trying to win consecutive Big Ten road games after walloping Iowa 76-47 on Saturday. Sullinger scored a season-high 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting and helped compensate for a poor shooting effort by William Buford, who went 3 for 14 but did pull down 11 rebounds.
"The fellas made a conscious effort to throw it inside, because they knew if they threw it inside it was either going to be a double-team or they were going to play one-on-one. Coach Matta thinks that works to our advantage," Sullinger said.
Getting the ball inside to Sullinger has almost always provided dividends for the Buckeyes (15-2, 3-1). He's been particularly good in Big Ten games, shooting 66.0 percent while averaging 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, after entering conference play at 16.2 and 9.2, respectively.
He also was dominant in his only previous visit to Champaign, totaling 27 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks while playing the full 40 minutes of a 73-68 win Jan. 22. Sullinger sank 13 of 15 free throws in that game and Ohio State outscored the Illini 36-11 at the foul line in the season sweep, capped by an 89-70 home win Feb. 22.
Sullinger had 12 points and 11 boards in that victory and had little trouble in the season series despite the Illini (14-3, 3-1) countering with 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale. Now the 7-1 Leonard gets the challenge, having made the quantum leap from a little-used reserve freshman for coach Bruce Weber to one of Illinois' primary offensive options.
The sophomore is second on the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game and pulling down a team-best 8.0 rebounds per contest after averaging 2.1 and 1.2, respectively, in 2010-11. Leonard, though, might have trouble staying on the court if he's guarding Sullinger because foul trouble has limited him to 24 minutes in two of the past three games.
The latest came Saturday, when he tied a season low with seven points and had just four rebounds in a 59-54 win over Nebraska. Guard Joseph Bertrand, starting in place of the injured Sam Maniscalco, hit 11 of 12 shots and finished with a career-high 25 points.
"We did (limit Leonard), but you give up something when you do that," Cornhuskers coach Doc Sadler conceded.
Bertrand has come on strong for the Illini, averaging 15.0 points over his last five games on 72.3 percent shooting to boost his season average to 6.6 points.
Buford has gone in the opposite direction, averaging 15.4 points for the season but 9.7 in the last three games while going 1 of 11 from 3-point range.
Maniscalco likely will miss a third straight game due to a sprained ankle, but Illinois leading scorer D.J. Richardson is expected back in the starting lineup. Richardson, averaging 13.2 points, came off the bench Saturday due to a sprained right wrist and scored two points in 21 minutes.
Even when healthy, Richardson has struggled against Ohio State. The junior has averaged 6.2 points on 27.9 percent shooting in losing all five games he's played versus the Buckeyes.
Ohio State has won five in a row and 10 of 12 in the series, including a 4-1 mark in Champaign.
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