Columbia, SC – The second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes hit the conference action at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia this afternoon.
The Buckeyes' lone loss on the season came last weekend at Kansas, but that was without their star player on the floor. Jared Sullinger returned to the lineup this week and Ohio State found its way back to the win column with an 82-58 rout of USC Upstate. With the win, Matta picked up his 199th victory at the helm in Columbus.
Darrin Horn's Gamecocks have struggled out of the gate and currently sit one game under .500 at 4-5. Half of those wins however, have come in the last two weeks, with victories over Clemson (58-55) and most recently, Presbyterian (66-58).
Ohio State holds a 2-1 series advantage after posting a 79-57 victory in Columbus last season.
Sullinger wasn't at his best in the win over USC Upstate, returning after missing the previous two games with back spasms. Still, the 6-9 sophomore recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Deshaun Thomas led the way at the offensive end, hitting 10-of-15 shots from the floor en route to a game-high 23 points. William Buford added 14 points in the win, as OSU shot a sizzling 56.9 percent from the floor overall. Ohio State is getting it done at both ends of the court this season, shooting 50.2 percent from the floor and netting 80.9 ppg, while giving up just 56.2 ppg. Sullinger is perhaps the best big man in the nation, averaging a double-double of 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Buford and Thomas are also making significant offensive contributions with 16.3 and 14.5 ppg, respectively. Point guard Aaron Craft (9.5 ppg) sets the offense in motion and leads the team with 5.4 apg.
The Gamecocks have had some consistency issues at the offensive end, averaging just 62.8 ppg, on a modest .417 shooting. There isn't much in terms of scoring depth. Malik Cooke is the team's top option, but is averaging just 12.2 ppg. Bruce Ellington has played in just three games this season, but does give South Carolina another option around the basket at 10.0 ppg. Since returning to the team, Ellington has upped his scoring output in each game, including a season-high 15 points in the win over the Blue Hose. Cooke was 5-of-7 from the floor, finishing with 14 points. Anthony Gill added 10 points and eight rebounds to the cause. USC, which trailed early on, was able to get back in the game with a 12-0 run early in the second half. The Gamecocks took their first lead about five minutes after intermission and took over down the stretch.