Sullinger still not cleared to return
Ohio State's Jared Sullinger may miss his third straight game on Wednesday
Sullinger is a candidate for national player of the year for the No. 2 Buckeyes
Sullinger missed Ohio State's only loss of the season on Saturday at Kansas
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta still isn't sure when injured star forward Jared Sullinger will play next.
"It's the progression we're trying to take in terms of step by step," he said of the pace at which Sullinger is being brought back from back spasms that have caused him to sit out the last two games. "As opposed to running the full marathon, we're going to warm up with a 5K and then get to a 10K."
The 6-foot-9 Sullinger is able to run, jump and shoot. But he still hasn't been cleared to play when the second-ranked Buckeyes (8-1) host South Carolina-Upstate on Wednesday night.
"You know me, I'm a guy that likes to not play guys a lot," Matta joked. "I don't know the answer. Hopefully I'll know more (after Tuesday's practice). Probably more of the tell-all (will be) in the morning, how he feels."
The Buckeyes suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday at No. 13 Kansas, a 78-67 setback on one of the toughest home courts in the country. Maybe because they at least hung with the Jayhawks for most of the game despite Sullinger's absence, poll voters kept the Buckeyes in the No. 2 spot. Meanwhile, top-ranked Kentucky - which lost at Indiana on a 3-pointer at the buzzer - fell two spots to third. Syracuse climbed around Ohio State to the No. 1 position this week.
Point guard Aaron Craft said the Buckeyes learned a lot from their first defeat.
"Watching the tape, we played hard and we played with some good toughness, it being our first road game," he said. "But we made mistakes that we don't normally make. If Jared would have played and we made the same mistakes, they still would have won the game because we didn't play Ohio State basketball."
Swingman William Buford pointed to how the Buckeyes struggles with shooting led to letdowns at the other end.
"We have to learn from mistakes we had in our loss," he said. "Just valuing every possession, not taking any plays off and continuing to play defense and let our defense lead to our offense. I feel the last game we weren't hitting shots and it affected our defense. We can't let that happen."
The Buckeyes, with just one senior (Buford) and one junior (Sullinger's fill-in, Evan Ravenel) on the roster, travel to play at South Carolina on Saturday.
Matta said one thing he has insisted on in the wake of the Kansas loss is that everyone must be responsible for the team's play and cannot rely on tired excuses.
"The message is still being heard loud and clear that we don't believe we played as well as we could possibly play. Not that we were going to win the basketball game, but the mistakes that we made have got to be corrected," he said. "There's a standard that we want to operate by. Just like making the excuse that we're a really, really young basketball team, or making the excuse that Jared Sullinger didn't play for us - we can't do that. We have to accept the responsibility of the actions that we had and they weren't all as good as they needed to be in order to have a chance to win that game."
Standout freshman LaQuinton Ross, who rejoined the team Sunday after clearing up some academic questions, practiced with the Buckeyes for the first time on Monday. Even with Sullinger possibly out or limited, it is unlikely that Ross will be ready to see much or any action until he gets more accustomed to the playbook and what is expected defensively.
"Unfortunately, he just doesn't have the foundation. It was really hard to even tell he was out there from that standpoint; it wasn't like he made all these great plays, or anything like that," Matta said of Ross' first practice. "The good thing for us is `Q' does have a high basketball IQ, and he asks a lot of questions. But we've got something going on here and he has to find his niche, and find his way to the court."
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