After being sidelined for two weeks with back spasms, Jared Sullinger wasn't his normal overpowering self in his first game back for Ohio State.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn probably wouldn't mind if he is still working his way back into playing shape considering what the All-America forward did to his team last season.Sullinger, who had one of the best games of his career against the Gamecocks, hopes for another strong showing Saturday when his second-ranked Buckeyes visit South Carolina.Out for Ohio State's win over Texas-Pan American on Dec. 3 and last Saturday's 78-67 loss at then-No. 13 Kansas, Sullinger was cleared to play hours before Wednesday's game against South Carolina Upstate. The 6-foot-9 sophomore came off the bench and finished with a season-low 12 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes in the 82-58 victory, shooting just 3 of 8 from the field."I thought he did a pretty decent job," said coach Thad Matta, who is going for his 200th win at Ohio State (9-1). "He hadn't played since the Duke game (an 85-63 win Nov. 29). To get him out there and get him moving, he knew he was going to be rusty and probably a little bit winded. But now that gives him some confidence to get back (to where he was) and to go to work."Sullinger, who averages a team-high 18.3 points and a Big Ten-best 10.3 rebounds, wasn't as pleased with his performance."I was terrible," he said. "I was tired. Taking two weeks off is a killer. I did a lot of work on the treadmill these last few days, but I was still very out of shape."In contrast, Sullinger had to be thrilled with his game in last season's 79-57 win over South Carolina in Columbus. He finished with 30 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in 30 minutes, and Horn knows it won't be easy to keep Sullinger from producing similar numbers if he's at full strength."He's big and strong and can finish and score and rebounds and does all that," Horn said. "He is an incredibly smart basketball player. He does all the little things. He has a very mature game."Horn is also impressed with William Buford, the Buckeyes' lone senior, and how Ohio State plays as a team.Buford is second on the Buckeyes with 16.3 points per game. He scored 12 against South Carolina last season in the first meeting between the programs since 1989.Ohio State held the Gamecocks to 38.3 percent shooting last Dec. 18, and it remains one of the nation's top defensive teams in 2011-12, limiting opponents to an average of 56.2 points."They're extremely solid defensively, they don't give you a lot easy when they get their defense set," Horn said.Horn's Gamecocks (4-5) are coming off Tuesday's 66-58 comeback win over Presbyterian, their second straight victory after losing three in a row.Bruce Ellington, South Carolina's dual-sport athlete, played in his third game and finally appeared comfortable. The point guard, who caught 17 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown for the Gamecocks football team, had 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting Tuesday after totaling 15 on 5-of-19 shooting in his first two contests."Once a couple (of shots) went down for him he seemed to regain his confidence," Horn said of Ellington, who led South Carolina as a freshman with 12.8 points per game last season.Ellington, however, had one of his worst shooting performances of 2010-11 against Ohio State, going 3 of 16 from the floor for six points.