Thompson Surging as March Approaches

By Kyle Rowland on February 25, 2014 at 9:15a

It’s not uncommon for opposing coaches to sit in the Value City Arena interview room and unleash a string of praise. Mike Krzyzewski has done it. Billy Donovan also has. Bill Self too. But they were all talking about Aaron Craft and the feisty guard’s defensive prowess.

In the aftermath of Ohio State’s 64-46 win over Minnesota Saturday night, Richard Pitino let loose a minute-long speech about Sam Thompson. The first-year head coach showered Thompson, who scored a season-high 19 points in the victory, with hosannas and acclaim. 

“I love Sam. I recruited him at Florida," said Pitino, who was an assistant to Donovan in Gainesville from 2009-11. “I think he’s a really good player. I wanted him at Florida, and I thought we were going to get him at Florida. He’s got great, great potential. Great kid, great family. It’s what college basketball is all about.”

On Saturday, Pitino probably wished Thompson had gone to Florida. Or anywhere other than Ohio State. With the Golden Gophers cruising, up 12 in the second half, Thompson and the Buckeyes came alive. A 17-0 run grew to 27-5, including 10 consecutive points by Thompson.

A listless Ohio State team shot 56.7 percent in the second half, outscoring Minnesota by 28 points. Thompson scored 16 of his 19 points after halftime.

“I’m getting into a pretty good rhythm right now,” said Thompson, who averaged 15 points in two wins last week.  

The Gophers’ NCAA Tournament hopes faded in a matter of minutes, while the Buckeyes increased their chances of a Big Ten Tournament bye. Most of the 18,809 in attendance were stunned to see such a turnaround after Ohio State played arguably its worst 20 minutes of the season in the first half.

“It’s a desperation game from here on out,” Thompson said. “Every game we play is desperation. Every game we play is a must-win situation. When you play like you have to win, when you play like there’s no tomorrow, good things are going to happen.”

It’s been seven games since Thompson was thrust into the starting lineup, replacing Shannon Scott to breakup a two-point guard system. Ohio State has gone 6-1 after losing four of its previous five games. The first five games in the new lineup were nondescript as far as Thompson’s performance.

“Great kid, great family. It’s what college basketball is all about.”– Richard Pitino

His scoring output was actually under his 7.5-point season average. But he’s shot 11-of-17 from the field and 5-of-9 from three-point range in the past two games. He’s also record six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.  

Getting airborne comes as easy for Thompson as asking Larry Bird to make a jump shot. During the Buckeyes’ pivotal run against Minnesota, Thompson offered an exclamation point in the form of a thunderous alley-oop dunk.

It appears for the second straight season that Thompson is getting hot when the magnitude rises. In Ohio State’s march to the Elite Eight a season ago, he became an offensive force, a player pegged low on the scouting report that consistently created headaches.

“Sam is one of those guys in his three years here, he’s worn a lot of different hats for this program,” head coach Thad Matta said. “The fact that he scored the ball at a pretty high level the last few games, I hope he can continue that, because that position definitely opens up a lot of things for us.”

Thompson is only the team’s sixth-leading scorer, though he looks accustomed to the spotlight and could be a frequent occupant. With a range of skills – defense, shot, athleticism, etc. – he could develop into one of the conference’s most dangerous players. Versatility led Thompson to being a coveted recruit, as Pitino alluded to.

It can be argued that Thompson should have been in the starting lineup from the beginning, way back when Ohio State opened the 2013-14 season in November. A faster tempo – yes, this is basketball; not football – and dependable points from Thompson could be the difference between an early March exit and deep tournament run. The Buckeyes have played on the second weekend a nation-best four consecutive seasons.

During the Matta era, few players have been more selfless than Thompson. He’s the ultimate team-first competitor. But it’s becoming clearer that he needs to become more selfish and take control on the offensive end. Or some might say that’s just another example of putting the team as the top priority.

But don’t forget this is the same player that hasn’t reached double figures in 11 of 15 Big Ten games. If you chew on that, though, one must also examine the before and after data regarding Thompson’s status as a starter. He was a 30 percent three-point shooter coming off the bench. That percentage is above 50 as a starter.

“Just keep attacking and be aggressive,” Thompson said. 



cuttyrock's picture

Some players just do better when they start from a confidence stand point.

+1 HS
MacG91's picture

If OSU is to make a run in the tournament, Slam needs to keep tearing it up! Kinda like what Q did for Deshaun last year. 


+3 HS
mrspray's picture

I think you hit it on the head - if Q can fill Deshaun's role from last year, and Sam can fill Q's shoes from last year, and they don't hit a HUGE scoring drought like the first half against Wichita St, they could definitely get into the Elite 8 or further.

+2 HS
arnie_palmy's picture

I agree, they just can't come out soft like they did against Minnesota and hope for a second half turnaround come tournament time. It will be interesting to see where Matta has this team come the B1G tournament.

Squirrel Master's picture

I like Sam in the starting lineup. He isn't quite the reluctant shooter that Scott is although he isn't an offensive stud either. I think this team plays longer and more effective on offense with him on the court and really, the previous starting lineup was awful on offense with pretty much only Q as the sole offensive threat.

Plus having Scott come off the bench and spelling Craft instead of playing beside Craft the whole game helps keep them both fresh for later in big games. It just seemed like they both wore down a bit more and throughout the game it became more evident that both were less willing to shoot from outside making defenses crowd the lane more. Sam might not be the next DT but he can slide behind the defense for backdoors, he is willing to take 3's and opponents have to be aware of where he is because he is so active.

I think Sam will be very key to this team going further in the tourney. I also think Loving needs to pick it up. We can all groan about Amir, Q, Craft and LSJ and their faults but this team really didn't have a decent second unit. With Scott now coming off the bench, Trey starting to play better and Loving finding his role, we could finally see some depth that Matta can utilize. So when Craft struggles, Scott can come in. When Q struggles, Loving can come in. When Amir does Amir things, Matta isn't afraid to put in Trey for a few minutes.

I think this team could be a sweet sixteen surprise again this year. And Craft would have reach the Sweet Sixteen every year in his career.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Lately I feel like Craft is a more reluctant shooter, even than Scott.  Now, Craft isn't afraid to drive the lane, but unless the game is winding down, he isn't looking to shoot when he drives.  I was at the Minnesota game and it seemed like he kept driving, turning around backwards and running into people instead of actually trying to get to the basket.  And they were playing off of him and he'd have 10 feet of space and wouldn't shoot the 3.  Once the offense started humming in the second half, I had less issues with Craft.  He still wasn't trying to score, but he didn't need to because of Sam Thompson doing what he does, among other reasons.  

+1 HS
WC Buckeye's picture

Totally. It's hard to watch him pull up for a jumper, because he looks so reluctant and uncomfortable with his shot. He needs to work more on his jumper and less on his defensive footwork, IMHO.

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

Squirrel Master's picture

I agree. That is why I prefer Sam out there because having both Craft and Scott on the floor not willing to take open shots really hampers this team. I know shooting 30% is not a great percentage but 3 out of 10 shots from 3 would still concern an opponent. 1 out of 3 for two players combined doesn't.


I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
chili96's picture

When Sam Thompson is on, he's really fun to watch. He also adds another dimension to the offense when he's in the game with his athleticism and his ability to destroy the rim.

+3 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Right on 96 - ST can be a thrill-a-minute with his leaping ability. Don't know if I could have said it any better than you!!!!!!!!!!!!

4cardpoker's picture

The team needs to play to its strengths.  The Buckeyes are mostly above average athletes and below average shooters.  Thompson, Craft, Smith and Scott all struggle in half court sets, but excel in transition.  The big run we had against Minnesota was mostly Thompson, Ross and Scott on the fast break.  

Self awareness is a very underrated trait in life.  Realize what you're good at, and what you're not.  Play to your strengths.  Hopefully the Bucks have figured this out just in time for another late season push in the postseason

+3 HS
bkleppel's picture

If we can play defense like we saw in the second half against Minnesota that would help too!

+1 HS
scrotieMcboogerballs's picture

If Sam was just more consistent, this team would be drastically different and much more never know if he is going to put up 19 or shoot 2 times and score 3 points...

"Who do you think you are?!?!...I am!!"  -Pete Weber, bowling legend and dominator of the English language

+1 HS
osubuckeye4life's picture

Slam's play is going really dictate how far this team goes in March. At this point it is tough to say what will happen in the next month but it will be exciting to watch. 

+1 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Next season could be interesting, Scott at the point, Sam, Amir, Trey, ADV, Loving, and some of the super frosh coming in will get playing time no doubt.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

Shangheyed's picture

There is a new "Savior" every two weeks... to date no one person has taken the Lead scorer(Thomas) role, serious problems when no one steps up...


Indeed great to see that Smith, Sam, Loving, and Q all have that ability... would indeed be nice if they all caught fire at the same time...This team truly can be great if somehow the baseketball gods smile on each part-time Thomas, transforming them to play at their highest levels at the same time...  Tourney could be very interesting.

nburns18's picture

I see Thompson as sort of the x factor for this team right now. As he goes the team goes. But Q and Lenzelle need to start hitting 3's. I feel like Lenzelle has been nowhere all season. barely ever hear about him anymore

"You win with people." -Woody Hayes