Thomas, Ross Lead the Way for Ohio State in Walsh Exhibition
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta wasn’t sure how LaQuinton Ross would handle his first real action in front of Ohio State fans, many of whom came to get a glimpse of the intriguing sophomore at Value City Arena Tuesday night.
So Matta decided to start him.
“For LaQuinton, this was a little bit of a test for him tonight,” Matta said following Ohio State’s 83-71 win over Walsh University in the Buckeyes’ lone exhibition game of the year.
“Just in terms of people in the stands and playing against somebody different.”
Ross, a 6-8 sophomore out of Jackson, Miss., played in only nine games for the Buckeyes last season, totaling 35 minutes of action as a freshman off the bench. He played more than half that Tuesday night, totaling 13 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
“He played really well,” junior Deshaun Thomas said.
“He scored through the offense. He didn’t try to force anything. That’s great coming from him.”
Ross actually did force a couple shots early in the clock, one of which landed him a spot on the bench next to Matta and assistant Dave Dickerson, who had a word with the sophomore about his shot selection.
Deshaun Thomas celebrates near the end of the game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“He had the one shot that was a forced shot, his feet were facing the sideline when he shot it from the top of the key,” Matta said.
“This team can’t waste possessions. We’re not always going to get a great shot, but we’ve got to get the best shot we possibly can.”
More often than not Tuesday, that shot came off the left hand of Thomas, a preseason All-American, who led the Buckeyes with 25 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes. He was 9-of-17 from the floor, but made just one of his six tries from behind the arc.
“I thought Deshaun played well,” Matta said. “The 1-for-6 from three, I thought he had some great looks and he had been shooting the ball effectively from behind the line in practice. He has that knack for finding the ball, and we didn’t run a ton of offense tonight, but when we did we got him some pretty good looks off of it.”
Matta tinkered with nine or 10 different lineups early in the game, and even switched things up to open the second half, with sophomore Sam Thompson replacing Ross at the small forward position.
Sam Thompson flies to the basket.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I knew going in I was going to start a different lineup,” Matta said.
“Sam has been tremendous. I wanted him to come off the bench. He and Shannon seem to have a great connection. I knew I was going to start a different lineup in the second half.”
Thompson was a spark for the Buckeyes at both ends of the floor. He blocked three shots, stole three passes, dished out four assists and scored 11 points, a few of which came on some pretty Thompson-esque dunks.
He just missed on a couple of alley-oops, but that was kind of the feel of the entire night for Matta’s 2012-13 Buckeyes. With all the different rotations, no one ever seemed to be quite comfortable with their role, other than Thomas and junior point guard Aaron Craft.
“We have a lot of things to learn and a long way to go,” Craft said, shaking his head a little bit after Ohio State trailed Walsh for most of the first half.
Matta said the game reminded him of his team’s loss to Findlay in an exhibition game a few years ago. That was Matta’s last team that had to replace a number of key players from a Final Four run.
“I said to the guys after the game, I had a little bit of déjà vu to ’07 or ’08 when we played Findlay,” Ohio State’s ninth-year head coach said after the game.
“We’re coming off a Final Four and we lost some great players and guys think they can just show up and be effective. It’s OK to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I can play better,’ and that’s what this team has to do, and we will.”
Sophomore center Amir Williams also got the start against Walsh and blocked five shots, including four in the first half, but most of those came on broken plays where defenders were beat on the perimeter.
Senior Evan Ravenel scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench, while both Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and Shannon Scott chipped in with six points apiece. Craft finished with five points, six assists and two steals.
The Buckeyes will play one closed scrimmage before they open the regular season against Marquette University in the Carrier Classic on Nov. 9.
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