COLUMBUS, Ohio — Among the few certainties of Big Ten Basketball, this especially rugged 2012-13 version, are that Wisconsin is always going to play top-level defense and that Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas is always going to get his shots.
It took the latter to get the former to crack on Tuesday night, even a little bit. Thomas eventually not only got his shots but started making them, finishing with 25 points en route to Ohio State’s 58-49 win.
Thomas got especially hot when he scored 10 of the 15 during a 15-0 Buckeyes run in the second half that essentially decided the game, and during that time he shared the ball, hit the glass and made solid decisions, too. At one point, Thomas had 4 of the Buckeyes’ 6 assists.
Not only is Thomas the Big Ten’s leading scorer, but he’s starting to grow up. And that’s why Ohio State — warts and all — figures to be in this crazy race ’til the end.
Beating the methodical, defensive-minded Badgers is never easy and rarely fun, regardless of result. It took Thomas posting up, stepping back and finding a groove to get Ohio State to recover from a first-half seven-point hole and a two-point halftime deficit.
The Buckeyes started 1-of-10 shooting. Thomas finished 10-of-17, finished with 25 points and didn’t do it alone for No. 11 Ohio State. He’s starting to feel that he doesn’t have to do it alone, too, and that’s a big step for Thomas and for his team.
In the midst of the deciding run, Thomas caught a pass in transition and headed toward the basket. Wisconsin got back, though, and turned it into a Thomas-on-three situation.
Thomas threw it to Aaron Craft, and the Buckeyes set up their offense.
“I saw a lot of red jerseys,” Thomas said. “I found our point guard.”
Said Craft: “It shows Deshaun’s growth. In our freshman year, he would have been thinking about shooting that.”
Craft and Thomas are the juniors who act as fifth-year seniors for this team. Craft is the engineer, Thomas is the scorer and all other contributions in the scoring column are welcome. The Buckeyes had just three players — Thomas, Craft and LaQuinton Ross — score in a 24-point first half, but by the end, seven had cracked the scoring column.
“We know Wisconsin likes that low-scoring game, wants to keep it close,” Thomas said. “We needed toughness. We had to try to be the aggressor, get out in transition.”
Thomas said Ohio State’s coaches preached patience against Wisconsin’s stingy defense, at least to a point. Eventually, the Buckeyes found some holes and started finding some space.
“I was in attack mode,” Thomas said. “But I also did the little things for myself and my team to get this win.”
On the attack is his preferred and comfortable mode, though Ohio State coach Thad Matta sees growth in Thomas in many areas. He appreciates it, too, and though Matta probably needs Thomas to keep his scoring average around the 20 points per game it was heading into this game, a well-rounded Thomas can make the Buckeyes more dangerous.
“It was a typical Wisconsin game until the 15-0 run,” Matta said. “I’ve used this word with Deshaun a few times — it’s efficiency. He was exhausted last five minutes, and two years ago he would just completely shut it down defensively and saved it for the offensive end. He didn’t do that.
“How he got those (25 points) was probably the biggest thing. He was patient. He slowed down and let it kind of happen.”
With the win, Ohio State improved to 16-4 and 6-2 in the Big Ten, just a game off the pace currently being set by No. 3 Indiana and No. 2 Michigan, who play each other this weekend. Wisconsin’s road win at Indiana two weeks ago seems very much the exception to the rule in the loaded Big Ten, which is why Ohio State winning its latest big home game was so important. The Badgers slipped to 5-3 in Big Ten play.
The Badgers set the pace. With Thomas leading the way, the Buckeyes took over and closed the deal.
“Deshaun is listening,” Matta said. “He’s getting some toughness about him. We need him to continue at the pace he is.
“Out of a timeout, he saw the defense and kicked to (Craft) for a 3-pointer. That was big. Yes, he’s transformed himself.”