BEXLEY — Jared Sullinger took the swing somewhere near his chin. After that, he put Scarlet and Gray on his back and on to the next round of The Basketball Tournament.
Now the question is just how long the team will have him in the chase for the $2 million, winner-take-all prize for the event champions.
The answer isn’t exactly clear at this point, and the Scarlet and Gray seem to enjoy keeping the secret right now. But one thing is absolutely clear: As the TBT competition level rises and the matchups get far more physical like the one with Texas Tech on Sunday, Sullinger looks like the one guy the former Buckeyes can’t do without.
“This guy did what he normally does,” coach Scoonie Penn said. “Jared Sullinger is a beast.”
The Matadors woke up the monster just before halftime with Quincy Diggs making the mistake of standing over him following a play along the sideline, then taking a swipe at Sullinger that led to an ejection.
It also fired up Sullinger, who would go on to corral seemingly every rebound, control the offense from the post on every key possession and spend the second half flexing for another full house at Capital Center on the way to an 82-73 victory.
For his part, Sullinger finished with an eye-popping 28 points and 20 rebounds, which made him look like a surefire TBT MVP candidate for a team that is clearly one of the prime contenders to win the whole deal. But that, of course, depends on his availability.
After both games this weekend, Sullinger and Penn have brushed off suggestions from the television broadcast that the forward wouldn’t be taking part in the rest of the Midwest Regional bracket, which resumes on Friday in Atlanta. And they seemed to almost be enjoying the intrigue and uncertainty.
“The earth is flat,” Sullinger said with a smile. “I don’t know. That’s the way the earth spins, you just never know.
“We’re always playing spades. You can’t talk across the table.”
The Scarlet and Gray obviously have a strong hand with Sullinger serving as the trump card. And in a tournament where the advanced scouting has apparently improved right along with the strength of the rosters, it certainly makes sense for Penn not to tip his hand — which is already set for an upgrade with Greg Oden joining the squad next week.
With the absence of B.J. Mullens for the second round due to personal reasons serving as a reminder, there are outside factors that can supersede a basketball, even when there is a huge cash prize on the line. But it’s still a little strange to try to parse the plans for the Scarlet and Gray as it moves on to the Super 16, particularly given Sullinger’s star power, his importance on both ends of the floor and the way he responded when challenged by Texas Tech.
“Wouldn’t it be your [plan]?” Penn joked about how much he leaned on Sullinger. “We knew he was going [strong]. We weren’t shooting the ball very well from the outside, and when you have a guy like him on the inside, that’s what you’re going to do.
“We used it, and we’re hear talking to you right now because of it.”
Jared Sullinger did it all for Scarlet and Gray
Sullinger did just about everything to make sure the Scarlet and Gray were in the press conference reserved for winning teams.
And he had understandably also been given the ceremonial privilege of moving the team name on to the next round of the huge TBT bracket on display behind a basket at the Capital Center. So, anybody who has caught the bug of this fun, entertaining, competitive event will just have to embrace a little drama until Friday to see if Sullinger can do it again.
“No way he’s out of the tournament,” Penn said. “We’ve got some things in the works. We’re not going to show our hands, but the big fella is playing, though.
“You can’t show your hand.”
Word to the wise: Scarlet and Gray opponents probably shouldn’t throw one at Sullinger either.
“The guy was standing over the top of me,” he said. “I’m 6-foot-9, don’t stand on top of me. I got upset, and then whatever happened, it was a push and he was gone. That’s on him.
“That’s a $2 million push right there, so I appreciate it.”
If the Scarlet and Gray are going to keep on winning, odds are they’re going to need Sullinger around to claim the check.