January 23, 2011

When focused, Thomas a big threat

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Ohio State freshman Deshaun Thomas has heard what Thad Matta has had to say about some of choices with his shot selection.

He has also heard the importance of staying mentally ready from his head coach, which is something he admittedly didn't do for Ohio State's home win over Penn State last weekend.

So when he got the ball in the second half of Ohio State's win over Illinois down by eight with time becoming a diminishing asset for the Buckeyes, what did he do? What he always does - he shot it.

"I'm a scorer, that's what I do," Thomas said. "Coach (Matta) puts me in the game to put it in the basket."

It's that simple for Thomas. There is no shot too big or a moment too key for him to ever think twice about putting the basketball up.

In Ohio State's close five-point win on the road at Illinois Saturday, the tough week Thomas had behind him wasn't enough to keep him from shooting it with his team facing an eight-point deficit on the road with time dwindling.

Coming off the bench in a game where the perimeter players were playing far worse than average, it was the freshman that helped sparked a 14-0 run with a three. Again, there was no thinking twice.

"There's no hesitation," Thomas said. "You've got to treat every shot like it's a winning shot. I played through it in high school, took big shots even in the state championship. That's what I did, took big shots, and they went in."

Thomas' first three off the bench led to perhaps the most electrifying minutes the freshman has played all season. He ended up scoring eight of Ohio State's 14-straight points that put the No. 1 Buckeyes back on top and eventually help the team preserve its perfect record.

The 6-foot-6 forward also drew a key charge during that sequence. For Thomas, he was certainly keyed in on helping his team escape Champaign with its 20th-straight victory to start the season.

"Oh, it feels good," Thomas said. "Coach always says he needs me. When I'm mentally prepared and ready to go, I can be one of the best players around. I can be unstoppable and I can hit shots and do what I've got to do."

But Thomas' transition to college basketball hasn't always been as easy as "just shoot it." When his shots aren't falling, the questionable shot selection instantly becomes less tolerable for Matta.

What will drive the head coach up the walls even more is defensive miscues due to a lack of focus. Just one week earlier, Thomas played limited minutes against the Nittany Lions and finished the game 0-for-3 from the field.

Matta said later that Thomas wasn't mentally prepared. Thomas agreed.

"(Against) Penn State, I was wallowing around, looking into the crowd," Thomas said. "Mentally, I wasn't there. But when I'm there mentally, I can be a heck of a player."

And that he was against Illinois when his team needed him the most. Opponents have been forced all year to "pick their poison" - to put it in coach-speak - when forced to double-team freshman big man Jared Sullinger in the post.

But doing that has freed up the outside shot and just about everyone on the team has made opponents pay for it at one point. Against Penn State, it was freshman Aaron Craft that was knocking down jumpers.

But Saturday, Ohio State wasn't getting that lift from its perimeter players. For the first time all season, it looked as if Ohio State was really on track for a loss.

This time, though, it was Thomas who came off the benched and sparked the Buckeyes, becoming the latest player to rise up for his team in key moments of a close game.

Matta has stuck with Thomas this season as only one of two key bench players for Ohio State, expressing a deep trust in Thomas to be a player that can score at will for the Buckeyes.

"Coach is like, 'Don't play like a freshman. When your mind is there, you can be a heck of a player,'" Thomas said. "And ever since he told me that speech, I've been playing like a sophomore, a senior or a junior."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.




 

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