Bob Hunter commentary: Thomas special when Buckeyes need him
There are a lot of ways to identify an All-America basketball player, and last night we discovered another one.
Seven minutes into the second half of a typical Ohio State-Wisconsin game — a hard slog through a sea of defensive mud and a generous helping of maddening Badgers offensive patience — Deshaun Thomas broke free of the grind.
A game in which baskets were rare treasures turned into a fast-paced Deshaun-a-thon. In 6½ minutes, a 41-37 Wisconsin lead turned into a 52-41 Ohio State edge, a 15-0 run that included 10 points from Thomas.
Breaking out of a Wisconsin game is like escaping Alcatraz. It says that the guy who did it has talents far and above the average player’s.
“It was his efficiency offensively,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “ ... He was more patient tonight. Sometimes when he knows it’s coming to him, he speeds up real fast, but tonight he slowed down and let it kind of happen.”
And happen it did. Thomas scored 14 points and added three assists in the second half to carry Ohio State to a critical 58-49 victory that kept the Buckeyes one loss behind Big Ten co-leaders Michigan and Indiana.
At one point early in the game, the Buckeyes were 1 for 10 from the field and the Badgers were 1 for 6. Even after the teams picked up the pace near the end of the first half, Wisconsin had a 26-24 edge.
Thomas said he knew then that he would have to step up his game to change things.
“When you look back and see this type of game, you’ve got to ask what can I do to help my team speed this game up, knowing that we need a run,” he said. “It’s 24 to 26 at halftime, and I’m thinking I’ve got to come down and make a shot and get a defensive stop early to get the team ready to attack. I was in attack mode.”
Junior guard Aaron Craft knows what to do when he sees Thomas get into a zone like that. He has seen it many times.
“Just keep giving him the ball,” Craft said. “That’s what great teams do. You see it all the time in the NBA. Someone’s got a hot hand. If someone has a mismatch, you give them the ball on every possession until they get it stopped. Fortunately, we have quite a few plays that run through DT and we can continue to give him the ball in areas where he feels comfortable. ...
“He made some big shots, but he also made some big passes, made big plays other than just put the ball in.”
Matta said the 25-point, four-assist effort was probably the best game of the junior forward’s career; the man he guarded most of the game, Ryan Evans, was 1 for 10 from the field in part because of Thomas’ defense.
“We kept our composure and punched them in the mouth,” Thomas said.
He seemed to know that it is a fitting description for an Ohio State-Wisconsin game.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.