Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor
In Sunday’s 82-61 win against Indiana, freshman forward Jared Sullinger was relegated to the bench after picking up his second foul with 8:16 to play in the first half. In an unfamiliar predicament, Ohio State coach Thad Matta needed a contribution from someone other than his National Player of the Year candidate.
In went freshman Deshaun Thomas off of Matta’s thin bench.
The first half lacked consistent flow for the Buckeyes, and “Thomas the Tank” entered, doing what he does best: shoot. Almost immediately, the southpaw hit back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite his 14-consecutive-point run that opened the floodgates to OSU’s big win against Indiana.
“I think that he’s got such a knack for finding the ball and finding open areas,” Matta said. “The shots were going down for him and it was great to see because we’ve seen at times when he can score in bunches like that.”
Thomas finished the first half with 16 of his 22 total points on 6-for-7 shooting, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range and four rebounds. It was just two points short of his career high, which came on Nov. 12 when he scored 24 against North Carolina A&T.
“It felt great. Every day it’s like this. … Coach is always in my ear telling me, ‘We need you — this team needs you,'” Thomas said. “I just come in and work hard in practice to help my teammates win ball games, and today was one of them.”
Thomas said the key to his performance was finding his hot spots on the floor. He said he’s gotten to know those spots during the team’s practices.
“We see it every day in practice,” fifth-year senior forward David Lighty said. “Once he gets it going there’s really no way to stop him.”
As the seventh man in Matta’s usual six-man rotation, Thomas has been an enigma for OSU this season. Since a key eight-point performance in the Jan. 22 road win against Illinois, Thomas had been nearly invisible.
Over his next eight games, Thomas just managed to hit two of nine 3-point attempts and average 3.3 points per game. He didn’t make a single 3-pointer from Jan. 29 until Feb. 22, only attempting five in limited minutes.
Since his strong performance in Champaign, Ill., Thomas has averaged just more than 10 minutes per game. In Sunday’s win, he played 24 minutes, with 14 of them coming in the second half after Matta elected to give him some extra minutes and Sullinger some extra rest. The team has a quick turnaround as it plays at Penn State on Tuesday.
The Fort Wayne, Ind., native is third on the state’s all-time high school scoring list with 3,018 points. Thomas said he didn’t treat the game against a team from his home state any differently than he would any other.
“It was just another game,” Thomas said. “I just came in and was ready.”