Dan Salter / Lantern photographer
Sometimes the best thing a player can do in the midst of a poor shooting night is take more shots. That is at least the case in the eyes of Deshaun Thomas.
The junior forward overcame a slow start to score a game-high 21 points and save the Ohio State men’s basketball team (9-1) from near-disaster, as the Buckeyes outlasted Winthrop, 65-55, on Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center.
“That’s what players do,” Thomas said of his up-and-down shoot performance. “You just have to be ready when the moment comes, and I got hot there for a second.”
Tuesday’s matchup with the Eagles was supposed to be a tune up for the No. 7 Buckeyes. With a showdown against Kansas around the corner, OSU was expected by some to make easy work of Winthrop and then turn its attention toward the No. 9 Jayhawks.
Instead, the Eagles (4-5) gave OSU all it could handle for about 30 minutes, before running out of gas in the final stretch and falling to the more-talented Buckeyes.
“We just weren’t ready,” Thomas said. “We took them lightly.”
It’s possible that the OSU was looking past Winthrop, but that didn’t appear to be the case in the early stages of Tuesday’s game. The Buckeyes opened playing aggressive on defense and Thomas knocked down the first two shots of the game for an early 5-0 lead. The stage seemed set for a big night from Thomas in an OSU rout.
But, quickly, everything seemed to unravel for OSU’s leading scorer, as Thomas missed his next nine field goal attempts. While he struggled, so did the Buckeyes. OSU limped into halftime with a one-point lead after shooting 34 percent from the floor. Despite a decisive size advantage, and an abundance of missed shots, the Buckeyes grabbed just four offensive rebounds.
“You (do that), and it probably tells you we’re not exactly tuned in to the level we needed to be,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.
While the Buckeyes seemed sluggish and even uninterested at times, Winthrop played with energy and resolve. Whenever it looked as if OSU was about to put together a run to put the Eagles away, Winthrop responded with a score of its own. In the early stages of the second half it looked as if the Eagles could pull off the upset.
Then Thomas caught fire.
After starting the game 2-of-11 from the floor, Thomas drilled five consecutive shots for 12 points in about a five-minute stretch. The final two shots, back-to-back 3-pointers, gave OSU a six-point lead midway through the half and lifted the Schottenstein Center crowd to its feet for what seemed to be the first time of the night.
“Deshaun Thomas just started being Deshaun Thomas,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “He did what All-Americans do. He put the game on his shoulders and grabbed it by the neck. It was never the same after that.”
Thomas would cool off in the final ten minutes, but the damage was already done. His offensive explosion ignited the Buckeyes defensively, and OSU held onto the lead for the remainder of game.
The Buckeyes can now officially turn their attention to the much-anticipated matchup with Kansas on Dec. 22. Opening tip is scheduled for 4 p.m.