March 19, 2011
Thomas shines in tournament debut
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CLEVELAND - Ohio State freshman Deshaun Thomas couldn't believe how fast time flies.
It hit him when he looked up at the video board as he and the rest of the top-seeded Ohio State basketball team warmed up before its 75-46 win over Texas-San Antonio Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I looked up and I saw the scoreboard and then I realized," Thomas said. "I am a freshman in college and I am playing in the NCAA Tournament."
A freshman this season that has played limited minutes for the Buckeyes, the quick-triggered Thomas made the most of his career debut in perhaps the biggest post-season tournament in all of sports.
Known for his propensity to want to shoot the ball, Thomas followed through on his reputation by showing he wasn't afraid to take shots on the biggest stage in college basketball.
Admittedly sometimes it hasn't worked out to Ohio State's advantage when Thomas gets shooting early, particularly when the shots are off the mark.
Unfortunately for the No. 16 roadrunners, that wasn't the case on Friday.
Thomas finished the game with 13 points against UTSA, showing great versatility while doing it. Of the five baskets Thomas made for the Buckeyes, two were shots from beyond the arc, two were layups at the rim, and one was a mid-range jumper.
"It was awesome," Thomas said. "There is nothing better than coming in and making a difference for your team. In high school I had the green light and I was always a major part. It is great when I can help out the team now."
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta pointed out that Thomas' role when coming on the floor is to give the Buckeyes a boost on the offensive end of the floor. With that, the head coach is seemingly prepared to endure a night where Thomas isn't completely off the mark or takes a bad shot or two.
Though Thomas succeeded in what he has typically done best, Matta thought it was important to point out something else.
"I think you forgot to mention the most important stat - he had three assists today," said Matta, who saw his Buckeyes assist on 26 of their 29 buckets, an NCAA record. "I think we've seen throughout the course of the season that Deshaun can score in bunches. Defensively, I thought he was very good today - they had him out guarding on the perimeter."
Thomas played 20 minutes in his tournament debut, mainly because freshman guard Aaron Craft left early after picking up two quick fouls.
In his time on the floor, though, Thomas has shown his complete game has grown quite a bit since the commencement of the season where all you could expect out of the freshman was a few quick shots and spotty defense.
Matta acknowledged how big Thomas' role for the Buckeyes is this season, particularly because foul trouble immediately throws the freshman into the fire. As time has progressed, Thomas has become less of a defensive liability, Matta said, which only lends for more playing time for the freshman.
Perhaps his biggest bright spot for him is his ability to pull down rebounds, particularly on the offensive end. Thomas has a knack for getting into position to grab big rebounds and the coaching staff has shared that with him.
Thomas, in fact, could turn into an elite rebound for Ohio State before his time is up.
"That's one of the reasons they recruited me, because I can rebound all over," Thomas said. "They said I'm the best offensive rebounder on the team. I had the ability since middle school. There was one game where I had 44 rebounds. I finished with 44 rebounds, 33 points and 11 assists."
Ohio State advances to play George Mason on Sunday. Thomas is just hoping to continue producing at this level when it means the most to the Buckeyes.
"It felt like a great atmosphere and I was happy to be there," Thomas said. "It was every kid's dream and my dream came true - coming in here and scoring in double figures during my first time in the NCAA Tournament."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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