Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
You didn’t think he would stop shooting, did you?
Deshaun Thomas is in a slump. During Ohio State’s final two games of the Big Ten Tournament – wins against Michigan State and Wisconsin – the junior forward shot a combined 12-38 from the field. How does the Big Ten’s regular season scoring champion plan on getting himself out of his recent funk?
By doing what nearly everyone who knows Thomas expects him to do: keep on shooting.
“I do shoot my way out (of slumps). Just keep shooting. I want one to go down so bad,” a noticeably frustrated Thomas said Wednesday.
At this time of the season, though, in a lose-and-go-home situation, can No. 2 seed OSU afford to have a potentially cold Thomas take the majority of the team’s shots?
Well, yes and no.
Yes if Thomas improves his shot selection.
No if he jacks up jumpers similar to the ones he was taking at the United Center this past weekend.
“The shots I’ve taken, they’re questionable. Well, some of them,” Thomas said. “(OSU’s coaches said) the bad shots you’ve taken, they’re killing your percentage.”
Thomas averaged 17.3 points per game in Chicago and was named to the tournament’s first team alongside junior guard Aaron Craft, the Most Outstanding Player. But he shot 17-47 (36 percent) and 3-20 (15 percent) from 3-point range, well below his season averages of 44 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
Tuesday, coach Thad Matta and his assistants began to break down film from their recent conference tournament run. One aspect of their review was trying to figure out what Thomas could improve on to better his shooting percentage. Their solution was fairly simple: for Thomas to stop forcing the issue.
“The coaches have told me when a defender flies out, put it on the floor, pump fake, then shoot it,” Thomas said. “I’ve been really working on the percentage because the bad shots are killing my percentage.”
Thomas’ teammates haven’t lost any confidence in their go-to scoring weapon.
Following OSU’s 50-43 victory against Wisconsin in the tournament championship, in which Thomas shot 6-for-19, redshirt senior forward Evan Ravenel quickly brushed off any doubts surrounding his teammate. Ravenel said Thomas could just as easily “been 18 of 19.”
Matta points to the critical shot of the game against MSU in the conference tournament’s semifinal as evidence for reason to be confident in his junior star. With OSU up two points, Thomas hit a jumper from the left elbow with 25 seconds remaining in the contest to all but secure a Buckeye victory.
“When we needed one, he got it,” Matta said.
It was NCAA Tournament time last season, after all, when Thomas skyrocketed from a capable scoring option to one of the country’s premier offensive players.
During OSU’s Final Four run last year, Thomas averaged 19.2 points per game in five NCAA Tournament contests. He was named to the tournament’s All-East Region team following big games against Cincinnati and Syracuse. Thomas’ play vaulted him into NBA Draft talk before the Indiana native decided to return to Columbus for his junior year.
Matta said he expects the experience Thomas and his team gained last March and April to pay dividends in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
“We talked about that as well,” Matta said. “Last year doesn’t give you a point, doesn’t give you a rebound, but it heightens your awareness a little bit of what it takes.”
Thomas wasn’t the focus of opposing team’s defenses last season, however. Former OSU forward and two-time all-American Jared Sullinger received the majority of the attention from the defenses the Buckeyes faced. Thomas benefited greatly from it, often being on the receiving end of a kick-out pass from a double-teamed Sullinger.
“Me and Jared, we played well together, two (big men), we read the defense, we knew when to pass it to each other,” Thomas said. “It was pretty much, pretty easy to score last year because everybody was focusing on him. I was just sitting back, being patient.”
It’s different for Thomas now, who has become the player opposing teams like to double down on.
“I try to be as patient as I can … Then again, I’m just trying to win,” Thomas said.
He’s handled the pressure all season, leading the Buckeyes, and the Big Ten, in scoring at 19.5 points a game. Despite recent less-than-usual performances, Thomas said he is ready as ever to help propel OSU to a second Final Four in as many years.
“I feel locked in. I’m just going to be ready. Whatever play is drawn up for me, I’m going to be ready to shoot,” he said.
Thomas had, not surprisingly, just finished doing one of his favorite things.
“I just got done putting shots up, they were going in. I’m just going to continue with my routine,” he said.
OSU is set to take on No. 15 seed Iona at 7:15 p.m. in Dayton Friday. If the Buckeyes can get past the Gaels, they will take on the winner of the game between No. 7 seed Notre Dame and No. 10 seed Iowa State Sunday. With two wins, OSU will advance to the West Region semifinal, and possible final, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.