By Adam Biggers
A potential conference player of the year doesn't lay an egg during one of the biggest games of the season, right?
Someone should have told the then third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes' star phenom Jared Sullinger that Sunday during his team's 58-48 home loss to then 12th-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
The loss didn't just even the Spartans with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title race at 9-3. It didn't just snap the Buckeyes' 39-game home winning streak at Value City Arena, either. No, the loss most likely cost Sullinger, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound power forward the Big Ten Player of the Year honors and all but took him out of the chase for national honors, as well.
Sullinger was rendered virtually useless Sunday, shooting a season-worst 5-for-15 from the field while committing a season-high 10 turnovers—more cough-ups than his previous five games combined (nine). The Spartans, who were led defensively by junior Derrick Nix and sophomore Adreian Payne, figured out how to cap Sullinger. Michigan State's guards took advantage of Nix and Payne's forceful defense which pushed Sullinger low and created plenty of opportunities for them to make a clean swipe of the ball.
Entering Sunday, Sullinger had posted an impressive resume, highlighted by averages of 17 points and nine rebounds per game. Sprinkle in his 21 games this season with 20 or more points, along with 10 double-doubles, and Sullinger's bid for Big Ten Player of the Year was seemingly secure, even more so than Spartans senior Draymond Green's.
While Sullinger didn't receive much help from teammates Sunday, he managed 17 points and 16 rebounds. However, the points and rebounds were negated by poor passes and strips, which accounted for seven of his 10 turnovers.
Meanwhile, Green, Sullinger's closest competition in the conference player of the year race, had a game which likely leapfrogged him into POTY-front runner status, although his 12 points and nine rebounds were far from season-bests.
Green, who was fresh off a 23-point, 12-rebound showing in the Spartans' 77-57 victory over Penn State just days earlier, played like a hungry senior who knew what was on the line—and that was a shot at the Big Ten championship. Never mind POTY honors, Green probably wanted the win and nothing else. It was just a bonus that he offered 34 productive minutes in the process. But a win surely didn't hurt his cause, either.
As Sullinger had, Green had an impressive resume entering Sunday's clash of the Big Ten titans with 13 double-doubles, averages of 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, along with 20 games with 20 or more points. But, unlike Sullinger, Green's team emerged triumphant, which, at least for the moment, vaulted him onto the perch that Sullinger claimed prior to the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State.