DAYTON — When playing defense, Deshaun Thomas sometimes gets confused by the concept of being in the right place at the right time. The Ohio State junior isn’t exactly a lock-down defender.
And that’s according to his teammates.
“He’s not known for defense,” Lenzelle Smith Jr. said.
“He doesn’t always do that,” Shannon Scott, referencing the rarity of Thomas making huge defensive stops.
“He circles the middle and gives up the entry on the post-entry pass one time a game,” Sam Thompson said.
Thomas is aware of the talk. He also knows he just silenced it for awhile. Without Thomas making the biggest defensive play of his career — and the biggest of OSU’s season — the Buckeyes might not have been in position to defeat Iowa State 78-75 yesterday in an NCAA Tournament third-round game.
Thomas found himself in the right place at the right time and made the right play, tipping a Cyclones pass that Buckeyes forward Sam Thompson grabbed with the score tied at 75 and 1:03 remaining.
Ohio State ran the clock, Aaron Craft missed an 18-foot jumper with 29.9 seconds left but OSU maintained possession when the rebound went off Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim. The Buckeyes ran more clock before Craft buried the winning three-pointer with 0.5 of a second left.
Thomas’ eyes lit when discussing Craft’s winner, but they absolutely sparkled when someone mentioned his tipped pass.
“It (defense) is not what I’m known for, but in my years here I’ve worked hard at it, and I’m going to remember that stop for a really long time.”
Smith smiled when discussing Thomas’ defensive gem.
“It’s one of those moments where you don’t know if you’re where you’re supposed to be, but you’re there and you’re going to make the most of it,” Smith said. “I’m pretty sure (Thomas) felt lost being where he was supposed to be, but he got the job done.”
Thomas said he sensed the pass was coming, because Iowa State had run the same play successfully several times in the second half. This time, he reacted perfectly, reaching to tip Ejim’s pass intended for Georges Niang.
Smith said he was proud of Thomas for not getting lost on the key defensive play.
“You have to find a way to dig deeper and get those stops, and Deshaun dug as deep as he has all year,” Smith said.
Thomas played well on the other end, too, scoring 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 2 of 4 from three-point range, and grabbing five rebounds.