Yes, Ohio State's junior forward has the eye-popping numbers and fearless nature common to big-time shooters. In 14 games he has take 220 shots, an average of 15.7 a game. He basically has taken as many shots as the next two leading Buckeyes combined. Lenzell Smith has 128. Aaron Craft has 106.
That might lead you to believe the former Bishop Luers standout is a gunslinger hunting shots, which is partially true given that he's the Big Ten scoring leader at 20.2 points entering tonight's game at Purdue. He's scored in double figures in every game. Still, at 46.4 percent shooting, Thomas is the most accurate of the Buckeyes' top six scorers. He's a guy you want looking for his shot.
But he's much more than that.
The 6-7, 215-pound Thomas leads Ohio State in rebounding, at 6.8. He has 23 assists against 20 turnovers, huge given that entering this season he had 52 assists and 77 turnovers. While he'll never contend for Big Ten defender of the year honors, he's much more consistent. He had two steals against Nebraska and has eight for the season.
“I like the way he's playing,” coach Thad Matta said. “He's continuing to expand his role. He has a very good understanding of what he needs to do and when he needs to do it.
“Winning and losing is important to him. Those are things you want from a junior. We only have one senior, so he and Aaron and Lenzell are like seniors. I've been pleased with how he's playing to this point.”
Matta has praised Thomas' ability to handle zone defenses designed to slow him down.
“He's been very unselfish throughout the course of the season. He's seeing the open areas.”
Seeing is one thing, delivering is something else.
“I am seeing the court a lot better, and it's because I'm growing as a player,” Thomas said. “I'm learning when to make the extra pass when I have open teammates because I know I can trust them to make their shots.
“I watch other players and the best ones get their teammates involved.”
While Ohio State lost at home to national power Kansas last month, Thomas was a force with 16 points.
“He's a hard matchup,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We play two traditional bigs, and he's not traditional, so it was probably a good matchup for us to put a guard on him and double him in the post.”
Thomas has taken offensive charge in Big Ten play, scoring 22 points against Nebraska (he outscored the Cornhuskers in the first half, 18-17) and 24 against Illinois. With 1,180 career points, he ranks 34th in school scoring.
“Thomas is so good at his all-around game,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, “that I don't think you can give me a steady drive on defense and expect to be successful.”
The No. 15 Buckeyes (11-3) seek to bounce back from Saturday's 74-55 loss at Illinois
“We're in the Big Ten, we go again, we've got to get ready to roll,” Matta said.
Purdue's 7-6 overall record is the Big Ten's worst, but given their decisive victory over Illinois last week, no Buckeye takes the Boilers lightly.
“Every game is going to be tough in the Big Ten,” Thomas said. “We have to be ready and have our game right every night. We have to trust each other and make sure we practice hard.”
Matta said during Monday's Big Ten teleconference that the Illinois loss showed “we weren't as good as we needed to be to start the game. We have to have ourselves ready in that regard.”
The Boilers were ready at the start in Saturday's loss at Michigan State but faded in a physical second half, in part because center A.J. Hammons missed much of it with foul trouble.
“We had a problem of being physical and boxing people out in the second half,” coach Matt Painter said. “We didn't show the maturity level you need to win on the road. Hopefully we learn from it and are better because of it.”
Still, Painter sees signs of improvement.
“We made some strides from a competitive standpoint. We had some struggles with that in the non-conference. We've done a better job of taking care of the ball and rebounding, outside of the second half against Michigan State. We still have too many breakdowns defensively where we hand the other team points. We're trying to get more consistent.”
Up nextTipoff: Ohio State at Purdue, 9 p.m. tonight
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