This will be Deshaun Thomas’ third go-around in the NCAA Tournament, and during his three years of experience the forward has come to understand that basketball is a lot more than simply putting the ball in the bucket.
Thomas truly does comprehend that the value of a defensive stop is equal to knocking down a jumper, and he now celebrates a well-placed assist as much as he would a two-handed dunk.
But Thomas, at his core, is the same player he was the day he stepped on Ohio State’s campus – a pure scorer. So it as easy to predict what Thomas thinks is the best remedy for his recent shooting slump.
“I just need to keep shooting, that’s what great players do,” Thomas said. “Some of the shots I take, they’re questionable. But I know if I am going to get it going that I am just going to have to keep shooting the ball.”
That would seem to directly oppose the message Thad Matta has been trying to drive home to his team for the last week – that one poorly-executed half, or one filled with cold shooting, can be enough to abruptly end Ohio State’s season.
The No. 2-seed Buckeyes, who open their NCAA Tournament on Friday against No. 15-seed Iona in Dayton, have accepted that their tournament life likely rests in the hands of their most prolific scorer.
“We expect Deshaun to keep shooting, and we know that at any point he can get hot and string together some pretty impressive games for us,” sophomore Sam Thompson said. “DT has been blessed with very, very short term memory with his shot.
“If he misses a shot, it doesn’t effect him. It is going back up and he’s really aggressive with it. But really, that’s what we need from Deshaun. We know that, the coaches know that and he knows that.”
A year ago, Thomas’ 19.2 points per game during five tournament contests was the main reason Ohio State punched its ticket to the Final Four, even with big man Jared Sullinger and shooting guard William Buford on the roster.
So it doesn’t matter that Thomas has shot 38 percent from the floor during the last six weeks, including two 6-for-19 performances in three games in the Big Ten tournament last week in Chicago.
“When you’re the man, you have to be able to rise up to the occasion and score,” Thomas said. “My teammates have been stepping up and really have been playing well, which is why we are on this little (eight-game winning) streak. But this year, kind of by being the man and being that scorer, it gives you a little pressure.”
The Big Ten’s leading scorer with 19.5 points per game, Thomas sat down with Ohio State assistant Chris Jent on Monday to get to the bottom of what’s causing his recent shooting struggles.
Thomas said Jent identified that he has been taking shots out of the flow of the offense, and the junior admitted that could be attributed to his eagerness to pick up from where he left off last March.
“I think he needs to slow down. He’s been a little anxious,” Jent told BSB. “I think that he has the maturity now, as a junior, to have a good enough understanding to not let (eagerness effect him) but also know that we need his scoring because that’s something we struggle with at times.
“We are going to need him to put it in the basket, but its up to him to decide if it is good shot or bad shot. We don’t want him to think too much out there. Basketball on the offensive end it is a reactionary thing, an instinct thing. We just have to be careful of him being too mindful of what he’s doing out there.”
Thomas understands that there has to be a balance between shooting himself out of a slump but also realizing that Ohio State is in the portion of its season where it doesn’t have the luxury of enduring bad shots.
In 2011, Ohio State – then the No. 1 overall seed – saw its season end in a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet after Buford’s converted on only two of his 16 field goal attempts while trying to shoot himself out of a slump.
Matta, instead, is looking for Thomas to play smart.
“When you look at Deshaun, the best games that he’s played this year, the word I always used after the game was efficient,” Matta said. “It wasn’t 28 shots, it was 14 shots but they were going in. That’s the message we’re trying to send – ‘Just stay within the offense, the ball will find you, knock them down and don’t put pressure on yourself.’ ”
Thomas promises he’s ready.
“I feel locked in,” he said. “I’m just going to be ready. Whatever play is drawn up, I’m going to be ready to shoot.”
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