Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor
LAWRENCE, Kan. — On an otherwise glum day for the No. 2-ranked Ohio State men’s basketball team Saturday, sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas was one of the few bright spots for the Buckeyes.
Thomas helped keep the Buckeyes competitive as they suffered their first loss of the year in a 78-67 defeat against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Thomas shot 50 percent from the field, and finished the game with 19 points.
Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger was absent from the OSU lineup due to back spasms he suffered during the Buckeyes’ Nov. 29 win against Duke. As a result, Thomas was forced to split time defending Kansas’ 6-foot-10 forward Thomas Robinson with Buckeyes’ freshman center Amir Williams.
Robinson ended the game with 21 points, but Thomas said OSU coach Thad Matta was complimentary of Thomas’ defensive effort against Robinson after the game.
“Coach just said I did pretty well with (Robinson),” Thomas said. “We tried to switch it up and confuse him.”
Matta said the additional work was taxing for Thomas.
“(Thomas) went 40 (minutes) tonight,” Matta said. “He wouldn’t have had to. He could have been a little bit fresher down the stretch.”
Thomas still had enough left in his tank to contribute on the offensive end.
Down the stretch, Thomas said his teammates wanted the ball in his hands and that Matta told him to be ready.
“I came into the game hitting shots,” Thomas said. “I figured since (Sullinger) wasn’t playing, somebody has to make up for those points. So, I just kept my head in and knocked down some big (3-pointers) in the first half.”
Thomas was 7-of-14 from the field and 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point territory in his 40 minutes of work. Two of his three made 3-pointers came on back-to-back possessions with just under eight minutes to play in the first half as OSU trailed, 23-16.
Kansas coach Bill Self said that Thomas was a challenge for his team to guard.
“In the first half… we were going to make Thomas make shots and keep Craft out of the (lane), and he made us pay,” Self said.
Thomas said his shooting success was the product of working on each facet of his game during practice leading up to the Kansas game.
“I mix it up in practice,” he said. “I play with the bigs and the shooters in practice. I’m versatile.”
The Buckeyes wouldn’t go quietly Saturday, despite the eventual loss. OSU cut the margin to four at 62-58 with 5:39 to play. When Kansas’ lead grew to 10 points with fewer than three minutes to play, the Buckeyes cut that lead as well, coming to within six points with 1:56 to play.
Comeback attempt after comeback attempt fell short in the end, but Thomas said the entire team was encouraged by how it competed.
“We’re a competitive team and that’s a positive,” he said. “Without (Sullinger), we came out and competed without him. We’re a great team with him — don’t get me wrong — but we came out and competed.”
OSU returns to action Wednesday against South Carolina-Upstate at the Schottenstein Center. Opening tip is set for 7:30 p.m.