Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor
PITTSBURGH – If Ohio State men’s basketball sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas had ever entertained the thought of auditioning for an early exit to the NBA draft, those thoughts were validated Thursday, and into Friday.
Thomas led all scorers with a career-high 31 points and nabbed 12 rebounds as the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes’ took down No. 15-seed Loyola (MD), 78-59, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center.
Thomas has been an offensive spark plug for the Buckeyes throughout their 2011-12 campaign. Going into Thursday’s contest, he averaged 15.4 points per game, second on the team to only sophomore forward Jared Sullinger’s 17.6, who may well also be departing for the NBA at season’s end.
Thomas’ 31 points came on 13-of-22 shooting. At one point in the second half, he scored 11-straight points for the Buckeyes.
Thomas said he was just trying to play the game OSU coach Thad Matta tells him to play.
“I was just trying to get in the right spots at the right time, run a play, run with pace like coach always tells us,” Thomas said. “Then I was just knocking them down. I was just feeling it a bit.”
Matta said OSU might not have won had it not been for Thomas’ performance.
“Deshaun was excellent on the boards and also scoring the ball,” Matta said. “He pretty much carried this team. I don’t think we would have won it without him.”
Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos didn’t need many words to sing Thomas’ praises.
“Thomas is a great player,” Patsos said. “Enough said.”
Despite a strong performance from Thomas, OSU delivered a largely middling performance. The Buckeyes committed 18 turnovers Thursday, and only notched 11 assists.
OSU must regroup for Saturday’s third-round matchup with No. 7 seed Gonzaga, who ran No. 10 seed West Virginia off the court, 77-54, Thursday at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Sullinger, who scored 12 points on only 4-of-14 shooting, said the team needs to play better in order to advance.
“Honestly, if we come out the way we played today … and play the way we played, we’re definitely going to be packing our bags and going home for sure,” Sullinger said.
The Buckeyes will play No. 7-seed Gonzaga in the third round of the tournament Saturday at the CONSOL Energy Center. OSU’s meeting with Gonzaga will start 30 minutes after the first third-round game, in which No. 1 seed Syracuse will play No. 8 seed Kansas State. Syracuse and Kansas State tips at 12:15 p.m.