March 15, 2013

Thomas' maturity vital in Buckeyes' win

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

CHICAGO -- The last time that the No. 10-ranked Ohio State basketball team (24-7, 13-5) played in these parts, Thad Matta went viral.

In the midst of of a 63-53 Buckeyes win over Northwestern on Feb. 28, the Ohio State head coach tore into Evan Ravenel after the senior center argued what he thought was a missed call by an official. The footage of Matta- bright red and screaming profusely just inches from Ravenel's face- made the rounds on the internet and sports debate television shows, with some wondering if the ninth-year Buckeyes head coach had gone too far.

Matta for his part, didn't seem to care.

"Nobody knows your team like you do," Matta asserted just a week later.

Backing Matta's words were his actions in Ohio State's return to Northeast Illinois. Playing in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, the second-seeded Buckeyes found themselves trailing No. 10 seed Nebraska (15-18, 5-13) by a score of 9-4 fewer than four minutes into Friday night's contest. As a whole, OSU's early outing was unimpressive, but it was Deshaun Thomas who drew the ire of his fiery head coach.

After a few minutes of questionable shot selection and even more uninspiring defense from his star forward, Matta opted to call a timeout and chew out Thomas, in a manner similar to the one that made headlines just two weeks ago. Matta ultimately decided to yank Thomas from the game in favor of sophomore LaQuinton Ross, sending his star player to the bench for what was a four-minute stretch.

"It was déjà vu," Matta said.

Thomas, for his part, admitted that his coach made the right call in taking him out of the game at that point.

"I kind of felt like I was short on a play, I fell for a pump-fake, and also I took at bad shot," Thomas said. "That's just me being anxious. He just kind of yelled at me and said, 'We gotta get your mind right, stay together.'"

Proving that nobody knows his team like Matta does, Thomas' stay on the bench seemingly motivated the first team All-Big Ten selection. After leaving the game with just one point to his credit, Thomas finished the first half with eight points, and finished the 71-50 Ohio State victory having scored a game-high 19 points for the Buckeyes.

That type of response might not have happened just two years, when the Fort Wayne, Ind. native became notorious for his affinity for shooting and a failure to control his emotions.

"I probably would've flipped," the junior forward said when asked how he would've handled the same situation as a freshman. "I probably would've threw chairs around, been still talking on the bench. Probably would've had my feet out, laying back in my chair. That's all maturity. I was into the game and being ready when coach called me."

Many factors have contributed to Thomas' growth, but the former McDonald's High School All-American said that his first wakeup call came when his sophomore season ended with an Ohio State loss to Kansas in last year's Final Four. With Jared Sullinger headed to the NBA, Thomas knew he was now The Man when it came to Buckeyes Basketball, and a lack of maturity on his part wasn't going to suit his team well moving forward.

"A lot of eyes were on Jared at the time and now a lot of eyes are on me. So you've got to watch what you do and make sure you be a leader out there and play hard," Thomas said. "That's what I was trying to do out there."

Through 31 games with the "new" Deshaun, the Buckeyes have amassed a 24-7 record and will play for the right to go to a fifth consecutive Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday. To a certain degree, Ohio State knows that it will only go as far as Thomas will take them, even if that means taking him off the floor for some time to get them there.

"I went to the bench and was more relaxed," Thomas said. "I came in and I looked like I thought I would- when I made that run in March last year. I had 19 and helped my team rebound real well and I'm trying to just stay aggressive and help my team.

"Anything I can do to try to help my team."

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