In a wildly inconsistent season for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, there’s been one constant for coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes: redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson.
Thompson was not necessarily expected to be the biggest factor for OSU this season after posting a 6.6 points per game average last season. Originally playing for Virginia Tech his freshman year, Thompson transferred to play in Columbus and had to sit out his first year in Columbus.
In his first year of play, he averaged 17.9 minutes in the 2015-16 season.
This year, Thompson has averaged 10.6 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds per game. Outside of a zero-point, five-foul performance against Iowa on Jan. 28, Thompson has been one of the biggest driving forces for OSU this year.
Outside of junior forward Jae’Sean Tate, no other player has averaged better than 50 percent shooting from the field and more than 10 points per game. Tate has been more of a scoring threat than Thompson, but the ability of the 7-foot center to convert at the free-throw line at a relatively high percentage makes him a much more potent threat.
Matta has praised Thompson this season for always being ready to go and bringing the same kind of intensity every night.
“I got my own little routine, just to be physically and mentally prepared,” he said on Tuesday. “I know that this team can’t afford me to have a bad game, and I have to be ready to play every single game. I just try to stay as consistent as possible when it comes to just my mental preparation and just my physical preparation.”
That preparation has led to career highs in nearly all categories except free-throw percentage. His 269 points-scored is his highest output as a collegiate player in his career, with six games still to play.
Against Rutgers, Thompson picked up 15 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. More importantly, Thompson hit five of his six attempts from the charity stripe.
Underneath the rim, OSU has lacked a strong defensive presence apart from Thompson this season. With 1.7 blocks per game, he ranks fourth in the Big Ten, and he provides an imposing force underneath the hoop, and even swatted three shots against the Scarlet Knights.
Earlier this year, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino had words of high praise for Thompson.
“He was terrific,” Pitino said. “He’s probably the most improved player in the conference, in my opinion.”
Before the OSU game against Rutgers, Thompson had posted a 6.1 box plus/minus, up from 2.2 in his previous season. After Matta started rotating Thompson in as much as possible, and eventually in the starting rotation, he immediately began to see results.
Although Thompson still occasionally makes mistakes, his coach remains confident in him to keep OSU on a roll.
“I think when Trevor is engaged, I think he’s as good as anybody,” Matta said. “There’s moments where he can get out of sync, and as long as we can get him back in and he lets us coach him and get him back into the fold of what we’re trying to do, he’s very effective.”