Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta has his starting five set. Aside from an injury or a drastic turn of form — something that some would argue is happening to the Buckeyes now — it is doubtful that the lineup will change.
One player on the outside looking in on the starting five is junior forward Sam Thompson, despite his status as on the front line last season.
Thompson started every game for OSU during his sophomore season, averaging 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
But this year he has been on the bench at the beginning of every contest, something he said doesn’t bother him.
“I know that every guy in that locker room wants the same thing that I want, and that’s to win basketball games,” Thompson said Jan. 15. “(Against) Michigan State, we found a group out there that had it going. I was fortunate enough to be part of that group. Against Iowa, coach Matta found another group that he felt would help best win the game. At the end of the day I’m not upset about playing time, I’m not upset about stats. We wanted to get two big wins last week and we didn’t get them. That’s all my focus is on.”
The Buckeye starters this season — senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., junior guard Shannon Scott, junior forward LaQuinton Ross and junior center Amir Williams — are the top five players in points and minutes per game for OSU so far this season.
Thompson, though, has been the sixth man — sixth in points and minutes, and the only bench player to average more than 20 minutes of play a game — for the Buckeyes so far this season.
Since Big Ten play began, Thompson has been up and down in terms of production. In the first conference game against Purdue, the junior from Chicago failed to score in 18 minutes played. Two games later Thompson would score a season high 18 points to help force overtime against the Spartans.
In the Buckeyes fourth consecutive loss (68-62 against Nebraska) Thompson would score nine points, good for fourth on the team.
Although he is coming off the bench, Thompson said his role has not been altered significantly.
“I don’t think it’s changed much. I think whenever I get in the game I still look to do pretty much the same things; it’s just at this point I’m not starting,” Thompson said Dec. 17. “Last year I was starting, I think I’m playing pretty much the same amount of time I was last year, so I don’t think my role has changed that much.”
Figuring out the team’s rotation off the bench has been an ongoing process based on game-by-game scenarios, Thompson said.
“I think it’s a combination of a few things: one, who’s playing well, foul trouble, stuff like that, and then also our opponent. We’ve had some success the past couple of seasons with a small ball lineup. Then we tried to go to the small ball lineup versus Michigan State and we couldn’t rebound; we didn’t have some success we had in the past so we went back to Amir and he really produced for us in that lineup,” Thompson said. “Iowa would have been a tough game to go small ball against because they have so much size and athleticism as a team. So I think it’s a combination of a few things. It’s just about being ready to play when you’re number is called and execute with whatever group of five we have on the court.”
Matta said the changing rotations during game is not likely to go away anytime soon.
“At this stage, so much of it is simply predicated on who’s playing well and when they’re playing well, why they’re playing well,” Matta said. “There’s no mistaking, when everybody is playing good — not great, playing good — we’re a much better basketball team. And I think that’s the thing that getting these guys to understand.”
Although his play has fluctuated, Matta said he wants Thompson to shoot more often instead of passing up open opportunities.
“I want Sam shooting the right shot in terms of his release, his follow through,” Matta said. “But yeah we need scoring and he’s shown throughout the course of his career this year that he can have some big nights.”
Next up the Buckeyes are set to take on Illinois (13-6, 2-4) at the Schottenstein Center Thursday at 7 p.m.