November 11, 2012

Thomas, Craft show maturity in Buckeyes' win

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With a roster that's possesses only one senior and three juniors on scholarship, the Ohio State men's basketball team was expected to rely plenty on youth and inexperience this season.

But in the Buckeyes' 82-60 season-opening win over Albany on Sunday, it was the team's maturity that made the difference.

With Ohio State trailing 23-22 with fewer than five minutes remaining in the first half, an animated Thad Matta jumped to his feet to call a timeout that proved to be the difference-maker in Sunday's contest. Having connected one just one of his first seven shot attempts, OSU forward Deshaun Thomas went on a tear to close the first half and open the second, scoring 16 points in what was ultimately a 25-4 run for the Buckeyes.

Although the timeout wasn't aimed to provide a wakeup for Thomas- Matta was unhappy with an uncontested layup that his team had just surrendered- the OSU coach was impressed by how the preseason All-American responded to the adversity that he faced early on.

"In the timeout he was kind of in his own world and I had to get him back in our world," Matta said. "I give Deshaun a lot of credit, because in the past, I don't know if he could have played through that."

After the game, Thomas admitted that his 19-point performance against the Great Danes was the result of the growth that he's experienced in more than two years in Columbus.

"I knocked down a couple in a row and I was on from there," Thomas said. "Freshman year, I probably would've just hanged my head down and just pout and all that."

Sunday also gave Thomas' teammate, OSU guard Aaron Craft, the chance to show how much he's grown since arriving at Ohio State in 2010.

While his maturity has never been questioned as a person, Craft showed that he's matured as a player against Albany, scoring a career-high 20 points- including five made 3-point attempts- to go along with seven assists. The scoring outburst from the Findlay, Ohio native was a far cry from the 8.8 points per game that he averaged as a sophomore, while connecting on 35.9 percent on his 3-point attempts.

"After the season that was one of the biggest things we talked about," Craft said. "Having guys just play off ball screens and go under ball screens is not gonna help us offensively and that was one of the biggest things we tried to work on."

With Jared Sullinger now in the NBA and William Buford having graduated, the Buckeyes will likely continue to rely on Craft to put up double-digit points in scoring, which is something that Matta knows that the 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard is capable of.

"Aaron is such a smart kid, he knows what this team needs. And having another guy that can put the ball in the basket is something that we obviously need," Matta said. "He's not going to force things. He took great shots today and that fact that he doubled it with seven assists is also very impressive."

Should Craft continue to put up numbers like the ones he did on Sunday, the three-time defending Big Ten conference champions should be in good shape moving forward. Albany coach Will Brown admitted that it's nearly impossible to beat the Buckeyes when they're getting that type of production from a player who's typically praised for his work on the other end of the floor.

"He's going to play in the NBA for 10 years, I'm sure," Brown said. "He just keeps getting better every year. We already knew he's the best defensive guard in the country."

Combined with Thomas, who averaged 19.2 points per game during last season's NCAA Tournament, Craft could help makeup one of the country's top scoring duos, which could potentially lead to another banner being raised in the Schottenstein Center at season's end.

"We knew Thomas was going to get his, regardless of what we did defensively," Brown said. "If Craft scores at the level that he scored at tonight, they're going to be a lot tougher in the Big Ten."


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