As the only unbeaten team remaining in the nation, No. 1 Ohio State heads to Northwestern today for…
Thomas The Tank Just Keeps Rolling
When Deshaun Thomas gets the ball on the offensive end for Ohio State, it is a given among fans that he is going to take a shot. Those expectations flow from his teammates as well. After all, they are the ones who have given him a nickname. They call him "Tank," as in the children's television character "Thomas the Tank Engine." Why? "You can't stop the tank from shooting," he said with a laugh. Seated next to junior guard William Buford at a table set up in the southwest rotunda inside the Schottenstein Center on Jan. 21, the third all-time leading prep scorer in Indiana history found himself being asked about his propensity to shoot. It had the two giggling like schoolchildren. "It's funny because everybody always talks about it: ‘You don't hesitate. You like to shoot,' " Thomas said. "I said, ‘That's what I do. I do it in practice.' Everybody always laughs and then when I make a shot, I scream or yell and everybody will be laughing. I think it's just funny." It proved to be a winning approach during a stellar prep career at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers. In four seasons, Thomas scored 3,018 points, good for third-best in the state's prep history. The results have been hit and miss for the Buckeyes, however. Although he has scored in double figures nine times this season, just one of those performances has come in Big Ten play. What he has provided is a presence off the bench for Matta, one that has the ability to immediately heat up and start firing. Case in point was OSU's nailbiting road win Jan. 22 against Illinois. After picking up two fouls in 27 seconds during the first half, Thomas was inserted to the game with 10:29 remaining in the second half and the Fighting Illini ahead 50-44. Exactly one minute later, Thomas caught a pass along the wing with his team now trailing by three and immediately fired a three-pointer that knotted the score at 50 apiece. For good measure, he added another one with 7:47 left to push OSU's lead to six points. He promptly missed a jumper on his team's ensuing possession and hit one on the next one to finish with eight points in the game. Asked if he looked at the shot clock before taking any of his shots in that game, Thomas laughed. "Nah," he said. "I'll be honest. At that moment, I was just feeling it. Usually when I hit the first one, nine times out of 10 the second one is going to go in. when I hit the second one I didn't even look. There was no hesitation. I was ready to be up and win the ball game." A few days later, Matta said he had pulled Thomas aside and given him a directive. "I'll be honest: when he hit those two threes the other day I grabbed him and said, ‘Only good ones now,' " the coach said. "He smiled and understood what I was saying." According to statistician Ken Pomeroy, Thomas is one of the two biggest contributors to the OSU offense because he shoots so much while on the court. Thomas and Sullinger compute as major contributors – players who are used on 24-28 percent of their team's possessions. Meanwhile, senior guard Jon Diebler – the team's all-time three-point leader and fourth-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game – is viewed as a having a limited role because he is only involved in 12-16 of OSU's possessions. While on the court, Thomas takes 30.8 percent of his team's shots. That figure is tempered by the fact that the freshman saw seven minutes of action Jan. 29 against Northwestern and did not attempt a shot. "I think it was one of those things that the ball never found him," Matta said. "He had a couple touches but just wasn't in a position to get a shot off there." The OSU coach said it can be a difficult process getting players to understand that they can not always get the same shots in college that they got in high school. Buford said it took him some time to learn that lesson. "You've just got to want to get better day by day," he said. "You've got to know that coming into college most people are just as good or better than you when you step in. High school was easy. You're so much better than everybody. You've got a lot more leeway. You can take shots you wouldn't take in college." Although the freshman consistently mentions that he considers himself a defensive player, it is clear that he has no qualms about shooting the ball from just about anywhere on the court. It is something both Buford and Matta said they are fine with. "We see every day what Deshaun can do in practice," the coach said. "Therefore I've always gauged what guys can do through practice because you practice so much more than you play games. We want him to do what he's good at and one thing is he can score." It is a sentiment Thomas has not argued with. "That's been my mentality ever since I was young," he said. "I just like to shoot. I like to score. That's what everybody likes to do. Coming in off a big high school career, scoring 3,000 points, that's all I did. I like to score."
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