CLEVELAND — Freshman bench player Deshaun Thomas made the most of his NCAA Tour-nament debut.
Entering the game mid-way through the first half, Thomas helped spark a late run that helped put the game away for Ohio State. Thomas finished with 13 points and eight rebounds during the Buckeyes’ 75-46 victory over Texas-San Antonio.
“I think you forgot to mention the most important stat — he had three assists today,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “I think we’ve seen throughout the course of the season that Deshaun can score in bunches. Defensively, I thought he was very good today — they had him out guarding on the perimeter.”
Thomas also showed great versatility. Of his five baskets — two were 3-pointers, two were layups and one was a midrange jump shot.
“At the beginning of the season I was with the guards, then I was going back and forth with the bigs and then I stayed with the bigs to help them out,” Thomas said. “The coaches said my outside game was already there and they wanted me to work on my inside game.
“But I had played all over in high school — you play all five positions in high school. Mostly I played inside, but once in awhile I’d step out and shoot threes and run point guard a little bit.”
What about the eight re-bounds?
“That’s one of the rea-sons they recruited me, because I can rebound all over,” Thomas said. “They said I’m the best offensive rebounder on the team. I had the ability in middle school. There was one game where I had 44 rebounds. I finished with 44 rebounds, 33 points and 11 assists.”
That’s quite a line on any level, but even a big game like that probably didn’t put as big a smile on his face as he had during Friday night’s NCAA Tournament opener.
“It was pretty special,” Thomas said. “Once you’re out there I’m like, ‘I’m in the NCAA Tournament and I’m a freshman.’ So it felt like a great atmosphere and I was happy to be there.
“It was every kid’s dream and my dream came true — coming in here and scoring in double figures during my first time in the NCAA Tournament.”
Ohio State made the Roadrunners pay for using a packed zone during the first half, then decided to keep making 3-pointers even after UTSA loos-ened up.
When Thomas made his second 3-pointer with 6:33 left in the game, Ohio State matched the NCAA Tournament record with 11 3-pointers —equaling the mark set by Central Connecticut state (March 15, 2007). The Buckeyes then became the lone record-holders when freshman Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 2:39 left. It was Smith’s first career three.
Joining the parade were senior guard Jon Diebler (four 3-pointers), junior guard William Buford (three) and senior forward David Lighty (two).
“It was a great thing, especially when they’re playing like they were —stalling and holding the ball,” Lighty said. “When there are so few posses-sions, you have to execute when you do have the ball.”
The 50 percent Ohio State shot behind the arc equaled the third-best NCAA Tournament performance in the school’s history — matching 50-percent marks the Buckeyes had against St. John’s (March 20, 1999) and Towson State (March 15, 1991).
Ohio State has five seniors on its roster and four are scheduled to graduate Sunday. The only problem is the Buckeyes will be playing their third-round game against George Mason two hours from campus in Cleveland.
Lighty (consumer affairs), Diebler (business market-ing), Dallas Lauderdale (strategic communications) and Nikola Kecman (aviation management) were slated to go through gradua-tion ceremonies this weekend. Eddie Days, the other senior, is expected to earn his family financial services diploma following the 2011 spring quarter.
“All four of our seniors graduated and it’s in the books, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to get those guys back and get it,” Matta said. “As I said earlier in the week, I hoped they were going to get their diplomas by mail this year.
“But I’m proud of the fact that all four have graduated. That’s gratifying and exciting to me.”
Ohio State set a new NCAA Tournament school record with its 26 assists, bettering the previous mark of 21 set three times, most recently against St. John’s on March 20, 1999.
Freshman guard Aaron Craft was held scoreless for the first time since Ohio State beat Western Carolina 85-60 on Dec. 12. He did finish with a game-high seven assists.
Ohio State improved to 4-0 against the Southland Conference by beating UTSA in the teams’ first meeting.
Ohio State improved to 40-21 all-time in 32 NCAA Tournament appearances. The Buckeyes improved to 30-2 in their opening game.
Contact Shaun Bennett at (440) 329-7137 or email@example.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.