Ohio State will have to wait at least another game to identify a single sidekick for Deshaun Thomas. Head coach Thad Matta is fine with that, in this instance.
That’s because No. 7 Ohio State got plenty of help from everyone in their 89-55 win over Long Beach State in front 14,832 fans in Value City Arena on Saturday, as four players scored in double-figures for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s scoring options were vast against the 49ers. Which of those players – if any – will turn their most recent performance into a reliable trend is something that will be answered only with time. The more in the mix, the merrier.
“We need Deshaun to score, but the best teams I’ve ever coached have had multiple scorers,” said Matta, stressing he’d rather have a range of different players that can score rather than identifying a lone option next to Thomas. “That’s the way we have to be, to be honest. Having different guys our there that can knock down shots is going to be advantageous for us.”
Ohio State’s most proven scoring entity again succeeded against the 49ers in Thomas, who paced the Buckeyes with 18 points, including six during a critical 15-5 run to open up the second half that turned OSU’s comfortable halftime lead into an insurmountable one. That much, Matta knows he can expect.
Then there was junior shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who most expected would have the most seamless transition into the scoring spotlight. He’s shown flashes of that ability this year – he scored 14 against the 49ers – but has yet to prove he’s capable of making those totals the norm.
LaQuinton Ross was back at it, contributing a 16-point performance against LBSU (3-6) on the heels of a career-high 22-point game in the Buckeyes’ previous win over Northern Kentucky. It is yet another reason for the sophomore forward’s rock star reputation to remain alive, but whether he’s ready enough on defense to earn heavy minutes against deeper, more talented teams remains in question.
Finally, there was sophomore forward Sam Thompson. A good portion of his 13 points came in the form of highlight-reel worthy dunks, but Matta is still waiting for the immensely athletic forward to put it all together offensively.
If nothing else, Matta has 40 more minutes of winning basketball to closely review as he ponders what this team may look like in a matter of weeks when the Buckeyes (6-1) embark in conference play in the Big Ten, perhaps the most complete conference in all of college basketball this season.
Thomas is certain of one thing – Ohio State is an immensely better basketball team when the opposition has no way of anticipating where the Buckeyes points are coming from. LBSU can surely attest to that.
“Once everybody is scoring and everyone is in the flow, I am happy as a scorer. It takes the pressure off of me and I don’t have to force shots,” Thomas said. “Once everybody is hitting, it frees me up. The last couple of games teams haven’t been leaving me, but when my teammates are scoring they have to back up off of me.”
It’s a balance Ohio State is still trying to achieve, especially as opposing teams come out defensively focused on taking Thomas out of the game. Thomas scored the game’s first bucket off a baseline hook shot, but accounted for only six more points for the remainder of the first half while OSU worked to put together a 14-point halftime lead.
Backed by Ross and Smith, who accounted for 18 first-half points, the Buckeyes effectively kept LBSU off balance. The second half was Thomas’ time to add his remaining 10 points while bolstering OSU to its second blowout in as many games.
“For me, before we started the season I put pressure on myself because I felt like I had to help Deshaun,” said Smith, who helped the Buckeyes collectively shoot 47 percent from the field. “Today, I really didn’t try to score. I was open, and I was going to shoot it and luckily I got out of my funk and made some shots.
“Guys on this team can make shots, it is just a whole confidence thing. Our points are going to come from a lot of people. I think we’re going to be a very good team.”
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