Maturity Helps Thomas Overcome Early Benching
By Brandon Castel
CHICAGO — Deshaun Thomas knows a lot about himself. He knows he loves to score the basketball. He knows he has to work harder at his defense and that he is prone to mental lapses.
He also knows how the younger version of Deshaun Thomas would have handled being sent to the bench early in a game. Especially a Big Ten Tournament game like the one Ohio State played Friday night against Nebraska.
“I probably would have flipped,” he said before breaking into laughter.
“I probably would have threw some chairs around or still been talking on the bench. I probably would have had my feet out, leaning back in my chair.”
But that’s not what Thomas did Friday when OSU head coach Thad Matta yanked him out of the game just five minutes into the action. The second-seeded Buckeyes trailed No. 10-seed Nebraska 14-6 early in the game, and Matta called for LaQuinton Ross to replace Thomas after he bit on a pump-fake that led to an easy two points for the Cornhuskers.
“Coach felt like some guys’ minds weren’t right. Of course I was one of those guys,” Thomas said after Ohio State’s 71-50 win.
“I took a bad shot early. Didn't run a play all the way through, and then I got scored on. I was just so anxious and so ready to play, but he sat me down and told me to calm down and relax. In the second half, everyone just went bananas.”
With Thomas back on the floor, the Buckeyes opened the second half on a 26-5 run. They made 11 of their first 12 shots from the floor after the break, and pulled away for a 21-point win that could have gotten even worse if Matta didn’t empty the bench.
Thomas finished with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds in 32 minutes. Without the team’s star junior keeping his head in the game, the outcome might have been a little bit different in this one.
“That’s all maturity,” he said.
“I was into the game and I was ready when my coach called.”
Welcome to the new Deshaun Thomas, an older, wiser, more mature version of the guy who used to let the ball fly every time it touched has hands as a freshman. That was two years ago, and the Buckeyes were loaded with talent.
They were also loaded with veteran leadership. Guys like Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale led the way for that team, but Craft and Jared Sullinger were mature far beyond their years as a couple of rookies.
With Sullinger leading the way, the Buckeyes reached the Final Four last season, but it was during that tournament run where Thomas really discovered his newfound maturity.
“A lot of eyes were on Jared at the time and not a lot of eyes were on me,” he said, “so you have to watch what you do and make sure you’re a leader out there and play hard.”
Matta might have been afraid to pull Thomas out of the game like that earlier in his career. He didn’t play much as a freshman, but even as a sophomore, the 6-7 lefty out of Indiana seemed to have a fragile psyche at times.
He seems to take every shot like it’s going to be his last, so sitting on the bench for four minutes while his team tries to rally against a team they were favored to beat would have crushed a younger version of Deshaun Thomas.
Even after he led the NCAA Tournament in scoring a year ago, Thomas started to come unglued when he ran into foul trouble against Kansas in the NCAA semifinal game. He started rushing shots, forcing the ball up when he didn’t have a good look, despite the fact teammate William Buford had been shooting the ball well all game.
Thomas finished with nine points in that game on 3-of-14 shooting. The Buckeyes lost by two, 64-62, but he says it was that experience which helped him grow into someone who was much better prepared to handle what happened on Friday.
“Like I said, younger Deshaun would have flipped out,” Thomas said in the locker room afterward, “but (coach) knew I was going to be mature and be ready when he called my name.”
Instead of pouting or getting angry, Thomas simply got even. He only made one basket in the first half, but the All-Big Ten forward sank six free throws to help Ohio State to a 28-23 lead at the break.
“I was just getting my mind right, getting my mind ready,” said Thomas, who finished with 19 points.
“My teammates were making plays out there and I was cheering them on, just being ready when my team needed me. Coach called my name and I came in and got a couple easy buckets. The show was on from there.”
And it could be on for the rest of the tournament if Thomas can continue to play with the type of poise and maturity he showed tonight. Especially if guys like Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross are going to hit shots the way they did in this one.
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