Thompson Pushing for PT

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 12/16/2011 2:00 PM
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Men's Basketball
Thompson Pushing for Playing Time in Matta’s Line-Up
By Ben Axelrod

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two months before the 2007 National Title game, the No. 2-ranked Ohio State basketball team found itself in a state of complacency. As the Buckeyes headed to Minnesota on the heels of a lifeless 64-62 victory over Penn State, head coach Thad Matta moved senior guard Ron Lewis to the bench in favor of starting freshman Daequan Cook.

Sam Thompson
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sam Thompson

Fewer than five years later, Matta finds his team in a similar situation. While he didn’t use the drastic means of a line-up change to announce it, the message was sent loud and clear on Wednesday night that Ohio State’s rotation is far from set in stone.

As USC-Upstate forward Torrey Craig seemingly scored at will against the Buckeyes, it wasn’t starting guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. or his traditional back-up, Jordan Sibert, that Matta called on to stop him, but rather it was seldom-used freshman Sam Thompson.

Craig had scored 10 first half points to help the Spartans to a 19-15 lead over the Buckeyes before Matta inserted Thompson into the game with 8:27 left in the first half. The freshman from Chicago responded by holding Craig scoreless as OSU went on a 22-9 run to close out the first half.

“(Craig) I think at that point scored eight straight points,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to get in there and make it difficult for him. Use my strength, use my athleticism.”

Thompson appeared to have earned more of Matta’s trust on Wednesday night as he played in a season-high 21 minutes. By comparison, Smith played in 18 minutes and Sibert played a season-low seven minutes against USC-Upstate.

“We felt there was going to be the potential to play some more minutes for him,” Matta said of Thompson, a former 4-star prospect out of Whitney Young High School.

“He’s been very solid in practice and he’s been very engaged in understanding his role on this team and what he needs to do.”

After the game, Matta also indicated that more playing time could be in Thompson’s future.

“Sam has really been doing a good job. And he’s starting to understand, he’s starting to pick things up, and Sam’s one of those kids who just wants to win,” Matta said.

“He understands the game and he can look at things and say, ‘okay, this is what you need me to do.’ I was very pleased with how he played.”

The 6-7 freshman has only been on campus for a few months, but he is already aware of the things that need to be done in order for his playing time to take care of itself.

“It just all starts at practice,” said Thompson, who played mostly shooting guard against the Spartans.

“As long as we’re working hard at practice, doing what we need to do at practice, doing what the coaches are telling us to do and learning from the older guys, I think everything will fall into place.”

While his defense is what will earn him playing time in a line-up that will often include Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, William Buford, and Aaron Craft, Thompson also showcased some offensive ability against the Spartans, scoring an efficient eight points on 4-of-4 shooting. Four of Thompson’s points came on a pair of highlight-reel worthy dunks, one of which landed him in the ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 plays for Wednesday night.

Sam Thompson
Sam Thompson
Sam Thompson takes flight
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thompson finishes from an impossible angle
Photo by Jim Davidson

But perhaps fittingly, the Chicago-native’s most impressive play of the night came on the defensive end of the floor, when a he chased down and blocked a lay-up attempt from USC-Upstate’s Ty Greene in the final minute of the first half. After the game, USC-Upstate coach Eddie Payne called Thompson’s LeBron James-esque block the turning point of the game.

"We had a kid make a steal, then it was a back-up guard, I think, an athletic kid, who ran him down and blocked him,” Payne said.

“We had the ball and maybe a chance to cut it to three, next thing you know, it's nine, and that really hurt.”

If Thompson keeps playing the way he did on Wednesday, opposing coaches shouldn’t have too much trouble remembering his name in the near future.

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