In quest for Big Ten tournament title, Ohio State overcomes reliance on Deshaun Thomas
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 11:03
CHICAGO — It seems the Ohio State men’s basketball team has overcome the blessing and the curse of having a man who might have been put on Earth to shoot a basketball.
In its eighth consecutive win, OSU captured the Big Ten tournament championship against the Badgers, 50-43, in part because of that man — junior forward Deshaun Thomas — and in part due to its ability to overcome its dependence on him.
After stringing together three wins in three days, the Buckeyes can call themselves champions of one of the nation’s most rugged conferences.
That feat, though, seemed dubious — maybe even impossible — following a 22-point loss to the Badgers in Madison that came across as a curtsy before exiting the Big Ten basketball stage.
More than a month ago, it seemed rather obvious that OSU, for as talented as it might be, was a one-man show — with Thomas as its only marvel.
That loss to Bo Ryan’s squad on Feb. 17 breathed life into the sentiment that the Buckeyes would only go as far as Thomas, who totaled 18 of OSU’s 49 points that day, could take them; symptomatic of a team in dire need of second scorer.
But Aaron Craft said losing has a way of cleansing the soul.
“I mean, you obviously you want to win every game. But — and I hate to say you have to lose to learn a lesson — but sometimes we’ve had to do that,” the junior guard said after Sunday’s contest.
“We’ve just looked at each other and, you know, we didn’t have anyone else to lean on. It was us when no one else really kind of gave us any due or believed in us. So we kind of wanted to take more ownership as players, as a team … whatever our role is, we wanted to do that.”
While those roles have changed on a game-to-game basis lately, they’ve guided the Buckeyes to recent success.
Thomas has continued with his offensive role as the team and Big Ten’s leading scorer, but help from Craft, among others, has lifted the Buckeyes to its fourth conference tournament crown since 2007 and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In OSU’s first game of the conference tournament, a 71-50 blowout of Nebraska on Friday, Thomas did his part, scoring 19 points, but he had substantial help from sophomore forward Sam Thompson, who also tallied 19 points playing in the United Center in his hometown, Chicago.
Against Michigan State, Thomas played second fiddle to Craft, who gashed through the Spartans defense for 20 points in a 61-58 win. And while the Fort Wayne, Ind., native still had 16 points, it appeared clear that Thomas didn’t have the burden of being OSU’s only capable scoring threat.
Sunday unfolded in a similar manner, except this time, sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross assumed the role as Thomas’ sidekick and chipped in seven points.
While Thomas led the team with 17 points, Ross’ play down the stretch is what ultimately sealed the Buckeyes’ fate.
“That feels great. That’s like a great moment, man, knowing that you’re in there with the last two minutes in on the game, knowing that like, it’s not only on you but it’s on your teammates, that you got to help them win,” Ross said.
Ross has become one of OSU’s ever-growing arsenal of scorers who form a legitimate threat as the team heads into the NCAA tournament.
And, Thomas, who has served as a stabilizing force for the Buckeyes for so long, said those scorers can only help the team en route to March Madness success.
“At this stage right now, a lot of people (are) scoring on our team and people know I can score, and right now it’s all about winning and getting to that next play and next play and the next game,” Thomas said.
No. 2 OSU is set to play No. 15 seed Iona in the first-round of the NCAA tournament in Dayton on Friday at 7:15 p.m.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 18, 2013
An earlier version of this story stated OSU plays Iona in the first-round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. The teams play Friday.