Twenty-five games into the season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team had relied heavily on its freshmen, in particular its star rookie guard D’Angelo Russell.
But when the No. 23 Buckeyes left the floor after a 75-55 drubbing of Penn State at home, it was a battle-tested senior who had led OSU to victory.
Senior forward Sam Thompson scored a career-high 22 points in the win, and said Wednesday night was the kind of game he has been working toward since arriving in Columbus.
“I’ve worked really hard over the years just on every facet of my offensive game. I really try to become a threat offensively,” Thompson said. “I played a pretty good game today, and just gonna try to keep that rolling.”
Thompson scored in a variety of ways against Penn State, whether it be from behind the arc, or down low.
He joked after the game that despite being a veteran on the team, he is still capable of his famous high-flying dunks.
“I can still jump a little bit,” he said with a smile.
Thompson threw down multiple times against the Nittany Lions, a team that defeated the Buckeyes in both meetings last year.
The senior from Chicago said despite the losses last season, his team was focused on the present heading into the game.
“We weren’t talking about last year as much as we were talking about this year,” Thompson said. “It’s a different team, they’re a different team. We just wanted to come out and play our best basketball. We knew that was a team that could beat us, as evident from last year.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said Thompson was one of the main reasons the Buckeyes were able to win their fifth game in six appearances.
“That was big for us. I was so happy to see the ball go in for Sam,” Matta said after the win. “He puts a lot of time in and we have kind of been saying, ‘if we can get him making some shots, I think it makes us a lot more effective.’ His ability in transition — everybody fears he’s running to the rim — being able to step out and knock down the shot definitely helps open things up for us.”
Thompson did more than just play well on offense, he also drew the task of defending the Big Ten’s leading scorer, Penn State senior guard D.J. Newbill.
While Newbill still led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 16 points, he shot just 5-of-13 from the field and pulled down just three rebounds.
Matta said Thompson’s defense was just as important as his offense, especially when matched up with the Penn State star.
Thompson, however, credited the Buckeyes as a whole for shutting Newbill down.
“(We had to) make him work. No open looks, try to keep him off the foul line. Make sure when he had the ball he saw five Ohio State defenders,” Thompson said. “We did a good job of doing that across the board.”
Newbill’s coach, Pat Chambers, also recognized Thompson’s elevated play and added that he thought last year’s wins over OSU might have had something to do with his performance.
“I thought Sam Thompson was terrific, and that’s what seniors do,” Chambers said. “He was on that team last year and I’m sure he had a little extra ‘oomph’ to play against us.”
Moving forward, Thompson said it will take more than just himself or Russell to continue the winning ways.
“We know that the season is coming down to an end. We know it’s time for the players to play,” he said. “Seniors gotta step up, younger guys have to keep doing what they’re doing and we’ll be fine.”
The Buckeyes will attempt to win their sixth game in seven tries as they are set to travel to East Lansing, Mich., to take on the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday. Tip-off is set for noon.