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Jared Sullinger gives a glimpse of what to expect at the next level 03.25.12 at 11:46 am ET
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It was an innocent enough comment that gave praise to teammates who picked up Jared Sullinger when he got into foul trouble in the first half of Saturday’s East Regional final against Syracuse. He finished with 19 points and seven rebounds after sitting the final 13 minutes of the first half and contributing just four points to the cause.

With 13:42 left in the first half and Ohio State up, 13-10, the All-American Sullinger was called for a foul on Dion Waiters‘ layup. He sat for the rest of the first half. But a funny thing happened. The Buckeyes didn’t crumble.

“I didn’t know Coach [Thad Matta] was going to sit me,” Sullinger said. “But these guys have played without me before, so they know what they have to do. We just kept competing on the defensive end. I think that’s what won the basketball game. And also in the first half that’s what got the game so knotted up. It’s not the first time they’ve played without me, so I’m just proud of these guys.”

They managed a 29-29 halftime tie against the top seed in the East, playing without a big of their own in Fab Melo. The TD Garden and national audience were introduced to names like Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel while Sullinger had to cool his heels.

“Lenzelle had big games before, when we played Indiana and then when we played Michigan,” Sullinger said after Ohio State’s 77-70 win that propelled them to New Orleans and the Final Four next weekend. “Lenzelle, the bigger the game I think the better he plays. With Amir, Amir always had talent. It’s just unfortunately he’s playing behind me and Evan at the time, so watch out for him next year. But those guys, they played big when it came to a big time game, and I thought that was tremendous for this basketball team.”

Watch out for him next year. Was that a message, a hint that Sullinger – a super sophomore – is in his final days as a collegian?

“Not at all. I’m not making any promises but I’m just saying next year you don’t know what can happen,” Sullinger said with a sheepish smile.

At 6-9 and 280 pounds, Sullinger is projected as a lottery pick right now by some NBA scouts because of his ability to score and rebound and dominate with his moves in the post, a precious commodity as witnessed in Boston this NBA season.

Another aspect Sullinger has mastered is the disrespect card – or more to the point – how to play it. Asked about his remarks that making the Final Four and playing for a title was the reason you came back to school for his sophomore year, Sullinger showed the classic chip on the shoulder.

“I appreciated everyone that doubted this basketball team, said we was the underdogs, we wasn’t good enough, mentally strong enough, not physically strong enough, mentally immature, we heard it all,” Sullinger said. “When we was going through that slump in February, everybody was saying this basketball team was kind of on a downhill. We heard negative comments. I want to thank y’all because through all the adversity, we constantly pushed through that. I’m so proud of these guys. It’s just I mean, we came from nothing, according to y’all, to something now.

“We know hopefully it’s not our last game, so we’re just trying to play hard and play smart, and not going down to New Orleans for a vacation, it’s a business trip.”

With next season almost certainly coming in the NBA, it’ll be ALL about business for Sullinger.

Read More: Amir Williams, Evan Ravenel, Final Four, Jared Sullinger