Thomas’ 31 Makes Up For Sloppy Play, Buckeyes Cruise To Third Round
PITTSBURGH, Pa.- Starting in an NCAA Tournament game for the first time, Deshaun Thomas couldn’t have picked a better time to have the best game of his career. The Ohio State sophomore forward scored a career-best 31 points and pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds, leading the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes (28-7, 13-5 Big Ten) to a 78-59 win over 15-seed Loyola (24-9, 13-5 MAAC) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With Thursday’s victory, OSU advances to Saturday’s third round, where they’ll meet the No. 7 seed in the Boston region, Gonzaga.
The Greyhounds came out hungry, outplaying the Buckeyes to a 5-1 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes in the game, but that lead didn't last. Thomas was fouled while making a lay-up to cap a 19-6 run and give OSU a 20-11 lead.
“Deshaun was excellent on the boards and also scoring the basketball. He pretty much carried this team,” OSU forward Jared Sullinger said of his teammate. ”I don't think we would have won it without him.”
A jumper from Loyola forward Shane Walker helped cut OSU’s advantage to just six points with 8:45 remaining in the first half, but a Thomas 3-point shot followed by a lay-up by Sullinger stretched the Buckeyes’ lead to double-digits where it would remain for the rest of the half.
Despite OSU converting just 34.3 percent of its shots in the first half, 14 first half fouls from the Greyhounds sent the Buckeyes to the foul line 18 times and helped OSU towards a 42-31 halftime lead.
“Foul shooting is always going to be important at this level,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “That was something, because we shot so poorly in the first half, 34 percent, whatever it was, 15‑18 from the line, that was good.”
The Buckeyes appeared poised to run away from the Greyhounds after a Thomas lay-up put OSU up by 17 less than three minutes into the second half, and unfortunately for Loyola, OSU’s Indiana-native was just warming up.
Thomas rattled off 13-consecutive OSU points, scoring in almost every way possible, via jump shot, lay-up, free throw, 3-point shot, or tip-in. The sophomore forward’s hot streak put the Buckeyes up 59-42 with 10 minutes remaining in the game- their largest lead until five minutes later when Thomas’ final basket gave OSU a 20-point lead.
“I was just feeling it a little bit,” Thomas said of his scoring outburst. “I was just trying to get in the right spots at the right time, run a play, run with pace like coach always tells us. Then I was just knocking 'em down.”
That cushion appeared to be large enough for the Buckeyes to cruise and for Matta to rest his starters, but a late Greyhounds push put Loyola within 11 points of OSU and forced him to insert Thomas, Sullinger, and William Buford back into the game. Matta’s adjustment paid off as Buford hit consecutive 3-point shots to seal the OSU victory,
The Buckeyes’ lone senior complimented Thomas’ effort with 17 points and Sullinger added a double-double effort with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Despite half of the Buckeye big man’s points coming within the first three minutes of the game, Matta said that he wasn’t concerned with Sullinger’s effort on Thursday.
“He knows there's things he can do and will do,” Matta said. “Jared will be Jared. Without a doubt I think that he'll be ready to go on Saturday.”
Matta did however seem concerned with a sloppy OSU performance that saw the Buckeyes commit 18 turnovers and not put away the Greyhounds until the final minutes of the game. But as is the nature of the tournament, the OSU coach remained satisfied with merely picking up a victory.
“This tournament is about advancing, and that's what we did tonight. I don't think we played at the level we need to. Our guys know that,” Matta said. “We did some things that were very uncharacteristic of how we played the last couple weeks, which were probably more mental. We shot the ball great in the second half, but our turnovers were detrimental to the flow of our offense.”
The Buckeyes won’t have much time to reflect on what they did or didn’t do against the Greyhounds, and will now turn their attention towards a Saturday afternoon tip with a Gonzaga team that spent the second round of the tournament dismantling West Virginia with a 77-54 beat down over the Mountaineers.
“It was kind of NCAA jitters. You know, everybody is kind of nervous about playing,” Sullinger said of OSU’s performance against Loyola. “But, I mean, I think there is a wake‑up call. After what Gonzaga did to West Virginia, they're going to look to do the same thing against us.”
If the Buckeyes play on Saturday like they did on Thursday, that very well may happen.
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