NEW ORLEANS – Jared Sullinger was supposed to give Ohio State a big advantage in its rematch with Kansas.
It didn't quite work out that way.
Sullinger, Ohio State's super sophomore, struggled against Kansas' big front line, shooting 5 for 19 in the Buckeyes' 64-62 loss to the Jayhawks in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Sullinger didn't play when Kansas beat Ohio State 78-67 on Dec. 10 because of back spasms. With the hefty power forward back in the lineup, the Buckeyes were supposed to have the upper hand inside.
Instead, Jayhawks center Jeff Withey harassed Sullinger throughout the second half as Kansas rallied from a 13-point deficit to earn a spot in Monday night's national title game against top-seeded Kentucky.
Sullinger, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, struggled with his emotions after the loss, walking with his jersey pulled over his head as the teams lined up to shake hands.
Now, he'll have to decide if he wants to come back to the Buckeyes again or head to the NBA.
Either way, this wasn't the way he hoped the season would end.
Sullinger was expected to bolt from Columbus after being selected first-team All-America as a freshman. Big, agile and with good hands, he was projected as a lottery pick, so the assumption was that he was gone.
Sullinger surprised nearly everyone by deciding to return, saying he wanted a shot at a national title after the Buckeyes were bounced early from the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed last year.
Sullinger had a superb sophomore season, leading second-seeded Ohio State (31-8) into the Final Four while earning All-America honors for the second straight season.
He had been dominant at times in the NCAA tournament and was good early against the Jayhawks, using his big backside to create space down low. With Sullinger leading the way, the Buckeyes bullied No. 2 seed Kansas inside early on, building a 26-13 lead that was still nine by halftime.
Then things quickly changed.
With Thomas Robinson asserting himself more and Sullinger struggling against Withey's reach, Kansas (32-6) stormed back, using a 13-4 run to tie the game at 49-all.
Sullinger tried to push back, but had a hard time finding any room to maneuver inside. He had three shots blocked by Withey in about a minute and had to alter several others around and over the 7-footer's long arms.
When Ohio State leading scorer Deshaun Thomas went to the bench with his fourth foul, Sullinger again tried to carry the load and again couldn't get it done.
Kansas hit all the big shots down the stretch and got to celebrate, while Sullinger dejectedly walked off the floor after what might have been his final game at Ohio State.