Thomas Torches ‘Huskers in Big Ten Opener
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Deshaun Thomas took to Big Ten play like a frog slipping back into a nice warm pond.
Ohio State’s top player and preseason All-American scorched Nebraska for 18 of his game-high 22 points in the first half of Wednesday night’s 70-44 beatdown of the visiting Cornhuskers (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten).
His 18 points were more than the entire Nebraska team at the break, and Thomas could have kept going for 30 – or even 40 – in this one if the Buckeyes (11-2, 1-0) had needed it.
“I came out in this game and I wanted to start out well,” said Thomas, who also grabbed eight rebounds in 32 minutes.
“Coach said I needed to start out well in practice and I did that. He said ‘mind right, game right.’ We got stops when we needed them and it was just on from there – fast breaks, dunks, everybody was just rolling.”
It really did start at the defensive end of the court, where the 8th-ranked Buckeyes held Nebraska to just 26 percent shooting in the first half and 30 percent for the game. Ohio State locked things down on the inside, with sophomore Amir Williams patrolling the paint in his second career start for the Buckeyes.
The 6-11 center faired much better in his second start than he did in 15 minutes against Chicago State last Saturday. Nebraska big man Andre Almeida – a 314-pound giant from Brazil – played only six minutes because of an ankle injury, but Williams was ready for all comers in this game.
“Coach Matta wants me to be a force around the basket,” said Williams, who finished w+*ith eight points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.
“I think I did good job around the basket today with four blocks and altering four other shots.”
The OSU defense also got a boost from point guard Aaron Craft, who had three steals in this game to pass former teammate David Lighty for second place on Ohio State’s career steals list behind Jay Burson.
“I thought Aaron was tremendous,” Matta said after the game.
“He did a couple things that no one would even be able to pick up on. There were elements of scouting that were touched on (in practice) and his ability to see it and react it as quick as he does is amazing.”
Craft was scoreless for the second time this season, but he found other ways to impact the game. Along with his three pilfers, Craft grabbed six rebounds and dished out eight assists while taking excellent care of the basketball despite the fact Matta said he missed practice on Monday because of a hip injury.
“He’s been battling some things since the Kansas game, but Aaron was as banged up as I’ve ever seen after Saturday's game,” Matta said Wednesday night.
The Buckeyes got out to a quick 9-3 lead early in the game, but they continue to struggle putting the ball in the basket. While Thomas was 8-of-12 from the floor in the first half, his teammates were just 7-of-21 combined from the field.
Back-to-back threes by Ray Gallegos cut Ohio State’s lead to five, at 20-15, with 6:44 to play in the first half. That’s when Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and Amir Williams took over. Smith splashed one of his five threes to start a 16-2 run by the Buckeyes to close out the first half.
Thomas scored seven points in the final three minutes of the half, including a three to put the Buckeyes up by 15 and a one-handed dunk in transition to make it a 34-17 game with less than a minute to play in the first half.
“I was really happy with Deshaun because they threw something defensively at him that was a little different,” Matta said.
“He and the other guys handled it really well. We seemed to have more of an understanding of what we needed to do every time we went down the court.”
Senior Evan Ravenel came off the bench for the second game in a row, and he got the tip-in on a miss by Sam Thompson at the end of the first half. The Buckeyes out-rebounded Nebraska 26-14 in the half and 43-32 for the game.
The second half wasn’t quite as sharp for the Buckeyes, as Matta rotated in guys like Trey McDonald and Amedeo Della Valle, but they still held Nebraska to just 27 points in the half and 44 for the game.
“We’re beginning to understand when we communicate and talk on the floor, we are able to be more effective,” Craft said.
“(Any player) is capable of going off every night, so it’s important for us to tune in every night and play strong defense.”
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