Buckeyes Sloppy, but Thomas Shines

By Kyle Rowland on October 30, 2012 at 10:21p

On the NBA’s opening night, Deshaun Thomas was nowhere near an NBA arena. Instead, he was in the sparsely populated Jerome Schottenstein Center for an exhibition game versus a 2,500-student college from Canton, Ohio. 

The Deshaun Show began in earnest.

Thomas had an opportunity to leave Ohio State after his sophomore season last year. He was a surefire first-round draft pick and would have made millions instantly. But Thomas returned for Year 3 to hone the skills that were first learned on playgrounds in the basketball-rich state of Indiana.

The junior sharpshooter led all scorers with 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting in the Buckeyes’ 83-71 victory over Walsh. Thomas added a team-high six rebounds, but three turnovers helped offset some of that production.

“It felt great to be back on the court playing,” he said. “We have to come out as a team and play hard and get everyone involved.”

Fan favorite LaQuinton Ross started the game and had 13 points, Sam Thompson and Evan Ravenel contributed 11 points apiece off the bench, Amir Williams blocked five shots and Aaron Craft dished out six assists.

But, as Lenzelle Smith Jr. said prior to the game referring to the Final Four loss to Kansas, Ohio State had a sour taste in its mouth.

“We have a lot of things to learn, a long way to go,” Craft said. “It’s a good thing it’s October. We can come back and get better tomorrow.”

The Buckeyes allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 48 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc. Ohio State trailed until the two-minute mark of the first half before using a 17-3 run to take control. The Buckeyes made half their shots from the field but only 5 of 19 three-point attempts.

“You have to face the facts,” Matta said. “I had a little bit of déjà vu going back to the Findlay game (in 2007 when we lost). It’s OK to look yourself in the mirror and say I can play better.

“This is the first team I’ve had a team that plays harder in practice than they play in games. It shows us we have a lot of work to do.”

Craft, Thomas, Smith, Ross and Williams were the starting five. But Matta used several different rotations and replaced Ross and Williams with Thompson and Ravenel to begin the second half.

Ross scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, feeding off of Thomas’ game. But his defense, the main area of concern for the ballyhooed sophomore, was lacking.

“Our identity comes from the defensive end,” Craft said. “That is what it has been since I came here, and that is the staple of Ohio State basketball. We make our best offensive drives after we played solid defense.”

A majority of that offense figures to run through Thomas, a preseason All-American. He came to Ohio State as an Indiana high school legend – the Hoosier State’s third-leading scorer in high school basketball history. Thomas expected to make an immediate impact at Ohio State.

Aaron Craft was in midseason form on D.

But his freshman season brought frustration. On a veteran-heavy team, Thomas played 14 minutes per game and averaged 7.5 points. His lack of motivation on defense contributed to his minutes played, but the freshman showed great potential on a team that was ranked No. 1 much of the season.

With the departure of three senior starters a year ago, Thomas finally seized his role on the team as a scorer. He averaged 16 points per game while also becoming a rebounding force, especially on the offensive end. Thomas averaged 5.4 boards per game and finished the season with 100 of the offensive variety.

But it was the NCAA Tournament run that really made Thomas stick out. He scored 19 points per game in the Buckeyes’ march to New Orleans and the Final Four, including 31 in a first-round win over Loyola (Maryland).

When decision time came last spring on the NBA Draft, Thomas wrestled with the process but ultimately chose to return to Ohio State.

“I was close (to leaving),” he said. “It was a decision to stay humble and get better at what I'm doing. I still have goals to take care of. That’s trying to get a Big Ten championship, then a national championship, then the sky’s the limit for me.”

Matta said he talked to Thomas about the decision and wanted him to choose what was right for Deshaun. They both talked about the goal of the NBA, but not just getting there – going there and making an impact.

“I don’t think Deshaun wants to get to the NBA just to say he got there,” Matta said. “I think he wants to stay a while and make a difference.”

The expectations Thomas faces this season are high – from the coaches, fans and himself. Despite losing two starters, the Buckeyes enter the season ranked No. 4 in both polls, though they were picked to finish third in the Big Ten.

“That’s a slap in the face,” Smith said.

Thomas has already earned two preseason All-American honors, as well as joining Craft on the first-team All-Big Ten team. Ohio State was the only team to have two members selected.

Over the summer, Thomas got in the best shape in his life and is noticeably slimmer. That’s because he wants to fit into Ohio State’s new offensive style, which includes running, running and more running.

The newfound speed will be seen on both ends of the floor. Jared Sullinger is no longer down low to put the ball in the basket or dish it back out. But Sullinger’s absence also frees the team up to move more freely, something the Buckeyes did when Greg Oden missed the beginning of the 2006-07 season.

A defensive-minded coach, Matta wants his team to bring an intense pressure on defense to create turnovers and fast breaks.

Defense: Ohio State's identity.

“We’ve been doing marathons,” Smith said. “We’ve seen the track this summer more than the court. But that’s preparing us for the type of running we’re going to do.”

That doesn’t mean Ohio State will completely abandon its half-court offense.

“To say that we’re going to be a running team doesn’t mean that we’re going to completely abandon our half-court principles and our half-court execution,” Thompson said. “We want to be the best of both worlds.”

Said Matta: “I want to utilize our abilities.”

For Thomas, that means setting up an offense, not just going off the fly. No one on the team has been at Ohio State longer than two seasons, meaning they are all accustomed to the days of Sullinger and a set offense.

Almost half of Thomas’ point total against Walsh came on possessions where his back started to the basket.

“I expect to use it a lot; it flows with the offense,” Thomas said. “It’s just natural for me. I learned it over the summer and worked really hard on it.”

Since his days at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Thomas has been a force at the wing, creating off the dribble. He’s stated that’s his favorite way to score, but without Sullinger down low, Thomas could become the viable option in the paint.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting an easy bucket down low,” he said. “A rebound and a putback at the right moment helps the team. Being able to step out and stretch the defense, that helps, too.”

It’s that unselfishness that Thomas has found over his two-plus seasons in Columbus. Game-winning assists and steals were part of Thomas’ game over the summer. Those traits have continued in practice. Smith said players have been caught off guard by Thomas’ willingness to dish, which has resulted in traveling violations.

“His evolution as a college basketball player has been a phenomenal thing to watch,” Matta said. "To his credit, he's put himself in the position he's in with hard work. He's starting to get an understanding of the little things it takes to be great.”

That includes taking an active leadership role on the team. Evan Ravenel is the lone senior on the team, but Craft and Thomas are the team’s most experienced players. Thomas, while a fan of the limelight, is quiet and reserved in the locker room. But he’s started to assert himself more as he enters year three in the program.

“Some of these players listen to me more than the coaches,” Thomas said. “They need that leader who’s been here, who’s been through the wars. I try to pull them to the side and let them know the journey starts now. We have to pick it up on defense and offense because in the Big Ten, it’s different.”

The journey continues next Friday on the deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.



Golden Buckeye's picture

I'm very excited about this team.  Am really excited to watch these boys develop for the next few years.

BuckGnome's picture

Anyone know where I can find a box score for this game?

Tanner's picture

I still haven't gotten over my surprise and devastation that DeShaun played his worst game of the year in the semi against Kansas

skiehl's picture

Thomas, Thomas and some more Thomas. I think this article foreshadows this college basketball season for the buckeyes; As Thomas goes, so will the Buckeyes. Here's to a great season and a B1G championship!

RedStorm45's picture

Sure fire first rounder? Lets put down the hyperbole, Kyle.  Even Thomas said projections he got back had him in the 2nd round.

Oakland Buckeye's picture

Agreed Red - not only ot sure fire 1st round - he was actually not even forecasted to go in 2nd round, WB was barely forecasted in rd 2 - & that did not work out so  well. http://www.draftexpress.com/nba-mock-draft/2012/

Triv's picture

I was impressed with Ross, I actually didn't see as many defenses lapses as i expected to on his end and he looked solid offensively. Amir Williams needs to be stronger on the boards, he let a couple offensive rebounds go through his hands. Also nice to see that Scott and Thompson both developed an offensive game so they won't be a liability on that end. And my last observation is that Ravenel seems a lot more polished on the offenseive end this year, looked much better than Amir offensively (Amir gets the nod defensively). Granted, all of this was against Walsh

Sorry Urban, Woody is still my favorite

Squirrel Master's picture

With Amir getting 5 blocks and 5 boards in 14 minutes, I would have thought he played a heck of a game while on the court. You saying he could have done better? I actually like the sound of that.
Anything else you can tell us about Amir and Ross? How did they look overall? Are they really starters or should we be concerned at those 2 positions? Is Amir ready to play major minutes in the post in regards to rebounding and defense?

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

Triv's picture

For one, Ross has about the purest looking shot I've ever seen. He looks so smooth shooting the ball and he even had one really nice bank from the wing. I'd say it's a toss-up between Ross and Thompson oer who starts there. Both have starter talent, but Ross is a better offensive threat and Thompson plays better D. Ross is a little bitter however, and based on last night I'd say Ross will start and Thompson will see significant minutes.
Amir did play a very solid game. I thought he looked very timid offensively though, and he got his hands on at least 2 or 3 balls that he should have been able to rebound but was unable to hold on. Looked like he was trying to catch the ball like an egg, rather than just grabbing it and pulling it with some power (a la Sully). Amir is definitely starter material, and I think him and Ravenel will split minutes. Amir is a defensive presence in the paint similar to Oden IMO.

Sorry Urban, Woody is still my favorite

Seth4Bucks's picture

Two things have me worried about the Buckeyes, rebounding and three point shooting. And the exhibition game didn't do much to alleviate either of those worries. The Bucks and Walsh both grabbed 33 rebounds, hardly impressive against a school that on paper is way outclassed by the Bucks. I think Sully's presence in the rebounding game will be greatly missed, especially against taller teams like Duke or Kansas.
I'm hoping they can block out and crash the board. Running the floor will probably be the team's strength, but I don't want to give up too many offensive boards to the other team. Hard to score off a fast break if the other team has the ball. Still, I don't think it'll be a problem against most teams, just the great ones who'll dictate just how far this team will go.
I'm hoping that they can also improve their three point shooting. They don't have to be a great three point shooting team. They just have to be good enough that other teams will respect the three and not just automatically collapse onto Thomas whenever he gets the ball down low and make them pay when they do.

BuckeyeNation's picture

Ohio State 83 • 0-0-0
                                                3-Ptr            Rebounds
## Player                     FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA Off Def Tot PF TP  A TO Blk Stl Min
01 Thomas, Deshaun f      9-17      1-6      6-7     1    5    6    1  25  0  3    0  2   33
10 Ross, LaQuinton f         4-9       2-5      3-4     0    5    5    2  13  0  1    1  0   21
23 Williams, Amir c            1-3       0-0      0-0     3    2    5    3   2   0  0    5  0   14
04 Craft, Aaron g             1-3       1-2      2-4     0    0    0    3   5   6  0    0  2   28
32 Smith Jr., Lenzelle g     2-4       1-3      1-2     0    3    3    1   6   1  3    0  2   19
03 Scott, Shannon           3-6       0-0      0-0     0    2    2    0   6   1  2    1  0   23
12 Thompson, Sam          5-9       0-1      1-1     3    1    4    0  11  4  0    3  2   29
30 Ravenel, Evan             5-5       0-0      1-2     1    3    4    1  11  0  1    1  0   16
33 Della Valle, Amedeo     0-2       0-2      2-2     0    0    0    0   2   0  2    1  0    8
55 McDonald, Trey           1-3       0-0      0-0     0    1    1    0   2   0  0    0  0    9
Totals                          31-61     5-19   16-22   9   24   33  11 83 12 12  12  8 200
Am I missing something? The box scores aren't matching the point totals.
By my math I have...
Thomas - 27pts /not 25 
Ross - 17pts /not 13
Craft - 7pts /not 5
Smith Jr - 8pts /not 6
Everyone elses seems to be correct.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater's picture

You're double counting the 3 pointers.   The first column for FG/FGA already contains the 3 point FG's.   So instead of counting them again, just add 1 point more for each 3 pointer.   So for Thomas, he made 9 FG's, and 1 was a 3 pointer.   9 X 2 = 18, plus one extra point for the 3 pointer = 19, plus the 6 free throws = 25.  

BuckeyeNation's picture

Mathematically that makes sense considering that the four players I thought were incorrect are the only players that made 3 pointers. I've just never seen it done that way before. Thx Ken.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater's picture

I'm just glad there is someone else out there as OCD as I am that they went through the box score and checked the math to see if the total scores were accurate.   Sadly, I do this all the time, ha ha.

dubjayfootball90's picture

boy howdy, I am looking forward to that first game!!!

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

mclovin's picture

Hopefully it won't be as sloppy as last year's aircraft carrier game.  Both teams looked terrible in that one.  Playing outside and on a ship certainly increases the level of difficulty.

WC Buckeye's picture

I was telling my fiancee (formerly from N. Canton very near the school) that if we scored 100 and beat Walsh by 40+ it was a good sign. A (God forbid) loss or a less than 20-point win would be cause for concern. This team's got a lot of work to do unless Walsh is playing with "Bob Huggins era" caliber talent.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

buckeyeEddie27's picture

"..because in the Big Ten, it's different."    Damn right.  Remarks like that make me want to beleive that if Thomas sees he is needed to step up and lead this team, he will. 

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Squirrel Master's picture

It does look like this will be a wing heavy offense although I think Craft will pick it up. But I definitely don't see a low post scorer in either Ravs or Amir. They will get some points but can't rely on them like Sully!
Maybe I was a bit wrong about Thompson. I thought he was a little gun shy with shooting, at least last year he was. I like the aggressive shooting from him. 5-9 is not bad compared to what was expected. I know this is a warm up against a lesser team but still nice to know that what we thought was going to be there, is there! Amir on defense, Craft as leader and Thomas as the lead scorer. With Sully gone this team could have easily taken a huge step back but it doesn't look like it yet!
After the NBA last night and watching Sully, I know what the celts were doing but still would have loved to seen him more on the court, and now buckeye bball is starting, wife is going to hate me for the next month until after The Game!

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

tennbuckeye19's picture

I said this on another thread about this game, but I'll say it again here. This game was basically a practice for OSU. Matta said that he and his staff did zero scouting for the game and were mainly working on line-up combinations and seeing how guys played together and responded to game situations. It sounded like Matta knew the game would be sloppy and can be used as a gauge for what they need to work on. 

osubuckeye4life's picture

Exactly, you really can't read too much into last nights "glorified practice".
Once they play Marquette, Duke, and Kansas then we will actually know something about what this team can do against the rest of the country. If the rest of the B1G is as good as we think, this team will be absolutely battle tested come March. 

WC Buckeye's picture

I don't totally disagree, but it's been said that a team plays like it practices, right? No matter which 5 are on the floor - coach's decision, not theirs - you hope to see the same intensity and performance at all times. I didn't see the game, but from all accounts we didn't get that. First game, practice, whatever - we know they're going to be good, we are pretty sure they're going to be very good, and there's a chance they could be excellent. I think, though, that a team of this caliber and potential should KILL a team like Walsh on the boards (fundamentals), turnovers (which happened), and other key statistics; our seventh man would be a superstar on that team, and I am not quite sure that was on display.
I think this team is in the great-excellent potential range if for no other reason than the fact that it's got AC and DT as leaders and Matta coaching it. I am looking forward to seeing how they all progress, that's all.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

osubuckeye4life's picture

I can definitely see what you're saying. 
It's going to be really interesting to see how this team does this year. 

Toilrt Paper's picture

IMO, this team could improve more between day 1 of practice thru March than any other Matta team.