Sullinger and Thomas Suddenly Have Games in Sync
By Brandon Castel
BOSTON — In all the frenzied late-night excitement over Ohio State’s 81-66 victory over Cincinnati, there was one shining moment that could signify something even greater is on the horizon of these Buckeyes.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With his team holding a five point lead late in the first half, OSU big man Jared Sullinger caught the ball in the post with his back to the basket. It was the kind of play Sullinger has made a hundred times in his career, if not a thousand.
The Bearcats were late bringing the double-team, and Sullinger would have had a decent look at the basket against backup UC forward Justin Jackson. Yancy Gates was on the bench with two fouls because Sullinger was playing aggressively around the basket, but out of the corner of his eye, Ohio State’s first-team All-American spotted his teammate in the corner for an even better look.
A beautiful knockdown, and one of eight shots Deshaun Thomas hit in the first half of his 26-point performance against the Bearcats Thursday night.
“The one Jared threw the hook pass out, and Deshaun hit a three late in the first half, they were on a rope together,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.
“They’ve been that way here as of late.”
But it hasn’t always been that way. Thomas has had to find his place within Matta’s system, and more importantly, within the framework of an offense already geared towards getting the ball to Sullinger down low on nearly every possession.
It took time.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thomas was used to being his team’s No. 1 option. He was also used to being the No. 2 and No. 3 option in many cases. He is a scorer, as people have finally gotten to see in his second season at Ohio State.
Thomas is a natural-born scorer who once tallied 52 points in a high school game. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the court and the confidence to take just about any shot if he has enough room to pull the trigger.
“If he doesn’t get into the flow he’s just going to keep shooting and find his rhythm eventually,” OSU point guard Aaron Craft said.
“He does a good job of finding his own rhythm, and it’s our job to get him the ball.”
Last season, Craft and his teammates were afraid to get Thomas the ball.
“Last year, it was really tough to get the ball back when you gave it to him,” Craft said with a smirk that almost needed a wink to go with it.
There were even stretches during the course of this season where it felt like Thomas and Sullinger were on different planets, even when they were wearing the same uniform on the same court.
They both know how to score, but rarely were they truly playing in sync. Sullinger was the star of the team last season, and he is the reason Ohio State has been one of the top teams in the country over the last two seasons.
Thomas is what could put them over the top.
“When you’ve got somebody like Deshaun, who can pass the basketball, score off jump hooks, hit the open shot at the three-point line,” Sullinger said.
“He pretty much catches everything that you throw at him, he pretty much makes me look better than what I am.”
With Thomas knocking down shots from long-range in the first half, things opened up for Sullinger to carry the Buckeyes down the stretch. He had 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, while Thomas finished with 26 points (on 10-17 shooting) and seven rebounds against the Bearcats.
“We played off each other,” said Thomas, who accounted for 20 of his points in the first half.
“In the summer we thought we could play well off each other. That’s going to be big for this team.”
According to Craft, it is something those two have done in practice this season, but not necessary in a game—at least not the way they were sharing the basketball unselfishly on Thursday night at the TD Garden in Boston.
“Deshaun has definitely grown from last year to this year, and Jared has always been that way,” Craft said.
“He’s going to get his looks, and when he gets doubled, he doesn’t hesitate to get the ball out.”
Especially when he knows the person he is kicking it out to can knock down shots the way Thomas has in the month of March, and really all season—although he is certainly playing his best basketball at the right time of year.
“I consider Jared to be one of the top power forwards in the country,” Thomas said.
“It helps this team a lot when there is a four like me out there who can stretch the floor and open it up for Jared inside.”
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