March 22, 2013

Thomas shoots out of slump vs. Iona

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DAYTON, Ohio -- Earlier this week, Deshaun Thomas vowed to shoot through his shooting slump. On Friday, the Ohio State forward backed up his words.

Thomas scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, helping lead the second-seeded Buckeyes (27-7, 13-5) to a 95-70 win over Iona (20-14, 11-7) in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native's outburst came less than a week after the Big Ten tournament, which saw him average 17.3 points per game, but do so on 36.2 percent shooting.

"It felt good, coming out and hitting that first shot, a couple shots. Coach always says you've got to keep shooting and knock them down," Thomas said. "I came out just being ready with my teammates. It was a great gym to shoot him. When I got here for shoot around, I saw it's a shooter's gym, and I said, 'It's going to be a good game for me.'"

The All-Big Ten selection's shot was far from inconsistent on Friday, where Thomas made his present felt early and often against the Gaels. The 6-foot-7, 225-pounder scored 13 points in the first half, as Ohio State took a 43-33 lead into halftime.

"We've seen a lot of upsets. We wanted to come out and be the aggressive team and play with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of passion," Thomas said. "We came out and punched them in the mouth."

It wasn't just his consistency that Thomas rediscovered against Iona. A week after making just three of his 20 three-point shot attempts, the Buckeyes star made all three of his attempts from long distance on Friday, marking the most 3-point shots that he's made in a game since Jan. 19. Thomas' effort from outside played a key role in establishing Ohio State's dominance over the Gaels, as the Buckeyes answered a 4-0 Iona lead with a 27-4 run in the first half.

Earlier this week, Thomas answered questions about his shooting struggles by claiming that his only option is to shoot himself out of it. His confidence could've proven to be Ohio State's worst enemy, as it's been one bad half of basketball that's ended the Buckeyes' past two seasons in the NCAA tournament.

The belief that the Big Ten's leading scorer possesses in himself, however, proved to be Ohio State's greatest adversary. And the Buckeyes don't really have any other option. With Thomas' scoring carrying Ohio State throughout the regular season, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta knows that he's going to have rely on the second-year starter, whether he's running cold or hot.

Matta has reason to feel confident in the state of his leading scorer, however, as even in his worst shooting performance of last weekend- a 6-for-19 outing against Michigan State- Thomas still managed to convert a jump shot with 25 seconds left to seal the Ohio State victory.

"When we needed one, he got it," Matta said.

Determined to repeat his March Madness run from a year ago, where Thomas averaged 19.2 points per game on the way to the Final Four, the OSU forward knows that he'll be relied on even more this time around. Without the aide of Jared Sullinger this season, however, that might be easier said than done for Thomas.

"I try to be as patient as I can," Thomas said. "Then again, I'm just trying to win."

So far, so good.


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