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Sam Thompson’s aerial assault sends Ohio State soaring against Iona

Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor

DAYTON, Ohio – In the NCAA Tournament, momentum can come from a variety of areas.

A critical 3-pointer late in the shot clock. A chase-down block in transition. A rip-around steal that leads to an easy basket.

During Ohio State’s second round victory against Iona Friday evening, though, it came from a 6-foot-7 rim-shaker from Chicago. Thanks in part to that momentum, OSU moves on to play No. 10 seed Iowa State Sunday at 12:15 p.m. with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

With just under two minutes remaining in the contest’s opening act, the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes’ previously 19-point lead had evaporated to four. The No.15-seeded Gaels took OSU’s first punch and rallied with a 25-9 run of their own. OSU, which started the game shooting close to 60 percent from the field, went cold, and Iona battled back with a couple 3-pointers from junior guard Sean Armand and a bevy of easy baskets in transition.

Following a layup by junior guard Tre Bowman, Iona trailed, 37-33, quieting a once-raucous scarlet-clad crowd at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

Enter, Sam Thompson.

OSU sophomore guard Shannon Scott got the inbounds pass after Bowman’s make, dribbled hard to the left wing and found a skying Thompson flying through the air. The sophomore forward caught Scott’s pass, one-handed, and slammed the basketball home with a fury of force that brought the capacity crowd back to its feet in a roar not to be topped for the rest of the night.

“I looked at (Iona’s) bench, and all the way from their coaches to their players, everybody kind of put their head down and it was a wrap from there,” said junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who totaled 12 points and three rebounds in the win.

Sparked by Thompson’s jam, the Buckeyes ended the half on a 6-0 run. Thompson scored the first four points of a second half in which OSU (27-7) blew by an earlier confident Iona (70) squad on way to a 95-70 throttling.

“We knew that if we executed, they would have a hard time defending us. Give us credit, we really zoned in on film today and we knew where we could attack them. We did a good job doing so,” Thompson said.

OSU frustrated the Gaels’ leading scorer, senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones, who said Thursday that the Buckeyes defense isn’t something he “expects to have a problem with.” Jones finished with nine points, shooting 3 of14 from the field. Junior guard Aaron Craft, Jones’ defender for most of the night, had six steals. As a team, Iona shot a dreadful 35 percent, with a 21 percent mark from behind the arc.

The second-leading scoring team in the country, Iona came into Friday’s contest as one of the most efficient fastbreak teams in the nation. It was OSU, though, that looked like the premier running team. The Buckeyes outscored the Gaels in the open floor, 34-11.

It was one of Thompson’s many dunks at the end of the first half with the game in doubt that got everything going for OSU.

“They were cutting into the lead slowly. We had to really change the game right there. The way he just threw it down, it really helped us out,” Scott said, who finished with seven points and 10 assists.

OSU outscored the Gaels, 58-37, after the monster throwdown by the Illinois native with the Buckeyes up by just four points.

“When he dunks on somebody, it gets us up and gets us going. That’s the exciting thing about him,” said junior forward Deshaun Thomas, who came out of a recent slump to lead the Buckeyes with 24 points on 8 of 12 shooting.

Thompson did a lot more than that one dunk to propel OSU, however. He finished with a career-best 20 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.

“Shannon and Aaron did a great job getting into the teeth of the defense, putting it up there for me to dunk it home. I got some easy buckets,” Thompson said.

The sophomore forward has been playing well throughout OSU’s postseason. He had 19 points in the Buckeyes’ first Big Ten Tournament game against Nebraska in Chicago last Friday. Thompson’s confidence level is high and rising.

“My confidence is always high but any time you have a game like I did tonight, it adds a little extra juice to it,” Thompson said.

Thompson dunking display against Iona was an encore to the show he put on at OSU’s open practice Thursday afternoon. With a few hundred OSU fans cheering him on, Thompson finished two in-between-the-legs dunks and a left-handed windmill. Even his teammates, who see Thompson throw down every day in practice, were a little surprised by the show he put on.

“Some of the stuff he did we’d never seen him do before. I’ve never seen him windmill with the left before,” Scott said. “I don’t really know what he can do.”

One thing Scott is sure of is as long as he gets the ball near the basket, Thompson, who has a 46-inch vertical, will grab it and slam it through the net.

“I feel he can get any ball I throw, really. I just really trust him now. I have a really good chemistry with him,” Scott said.

Those associated with OSU hope that chemistry will continue.

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