Deshaun Thomas has been everything for Ohio State’s halfcourt offense this season, more than he should have to be. On Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley, however, Thomas was just 4-of-13 for 11 points. That meant other players needed to step up, and they did led by sophomore Sam Thompson. Sam’s 16 points led the Bucks and Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 11 as the 14th-ranked Buckeyes dispatched of the winless Nittany Lions with relative ease by a 65-51 count.
As Dan Dakich mentioned during the telecast, if anything, Penn State gave the top half of the conference some excellent game film on how to slow down Deshaun Thomas. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer, who leads the Big Ten in scoring and had scored 20 or more in all but one conference game, was held in check.
The Nittany Lions threw a slew of zone and man defensive looks at the Buckeyes that included double teams on Thomas in the post and a man closely locked on him when on the perimeter. It was quite reminiscent of the Kansas and Duke games where Thomas was able to manage just 16 points in each contest. Given the opponent and some of the other performances, Thomas didn’t really try to force things much, but it is certainly noteworthy that he managed just 27 points against Iowa and Penn State, two of the lower Big Ten opponents, this week. Ohio State’s zone offense is the stuff that nightmares are made of, passing back and forth on the perimeter until someone takes a long contested jumper in most cases. Thomas moves around the key as defenders pinch in on him, and it’s often up to Aaron Craft to create with some sort of dribble drive.
The hero in this game was Sam Thompson, who’s really coming on strong in his sophomore campaign. Not even an offensive option last season, Thompson has parlayed his defense and athleticism into a starting role. Thompson had a couple of athletic dunks in this game, but it was his corner jumper and pair of threes that really came unsuspecting to the Penn State defense that gave the Buckeyes the boost they needed. In 31 minutes, Slammin’ Sam missed just one of his seven shots and it amounted to a 16 point, 6 rebound effort. Thompson is averaging 7.5 points per game on the year, and he’s scored 8 or more in the last five. On a team looking for second and third scorers, it’s been a huge deal. Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s 11 points gave the team three double digit scorers with his 11 points that included 7-of-8 at the free throw line.
This game really was punctuated by two extended scoring droughts, which actually occurred around the exact same time. From 13:34 to 2:10, Penn State only scored one field goal and missed 13 straight shots. Meanwhile, Ohio State scored just 10 points from 11:04 to 0:59 seconds in the first half. Penn State has one of the highest scoring duos in the conference in D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall at 30.6 ppg combined. Not much changed as those two combined for 31 of the team’s 51 points (Marshall had 16). Penn State’s offense in general was characterized by poor, long, contested shots early in the shot clock. Penn State shot just 36%, and OSU’s 39-25 rebounding advantage helped them to stay in control as neither team turned the ball over much. In fact, it was quite strange to see OSU force just four turnovers while turning it over just eight times themselves, especially after they had several of those in the first few minutes.
Sophomore big Trey McDonald saw six minutes of meaningful playing time yesterday, and I’m hoping that he’ll continue to get more in the future. With Amir Williams such a weak defender and defensive rebounder at times, McDonald is reportedly coming on in practice and he has a much bigger frame to defend than Williams.
Next up for the Buckeyes, they host the Wisconsin Badgers at The Schott on Tuesday night. The Badgers, like OSU, have two conference losses and are looking to keep pace with the three one loss teams (Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana). The Badgers won in gruelingly slow fashion against Minnesota yesterday 45-44. You can expect that type of heavyweight defensive slugfest on Tuesday given the way OSU runs their halfcourt offense.
(Photo: Rich Barnes/USA Today)