Ohio State’s Thomas playing strong in NCAA tournament

Deshaun Thomas Jr. celebrated his first birthday by watching his dad score 24 points for Ohio State against Iona at UD Arena on Friday. The elder Thomas said his son wasn’t at the game Sunday, but it’s a performance he’ll want to show him someday.

Thomas, a 6-foot-7 junior from Fort Wayne, Ind., scored 22 points against Iowa State, and until Aaron Craft hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left to beat Iowa State 78-75 in the third round of the NCAA tournament, Thomas was the star of the game.

“I take pride in what I’m doing because I want my son to grow up to be just like me,” Thomas said. “Grow up to hoop and be a great scorer.”

Thomas shot 8-of-14 from the field, 4-of-4 from the free-throw line and made 2-of-4 3-pointers in 38 minutes. He has scored in double figures in all 35 of Ohio State’s games.

But coming into the NCAA tournament, Thomas was in a bit of a slump. He had back-to-back 6-of-19 shooting performances in the Big Ten tournament and combined to make 2-of-17 3-pointers.

“Deshaun, in both these games, has shown a lot more patience,” Ohio State assistant coach Chris Jent said. “He looks calmer. He’s taking what the defense is giving him. He’s a phenomenal scorer. To see him in a nice little rhythm is great for us.”

Jent wasn’t concerned by Thomas’ shooting struggles in the Big Ten tournament. Thomas had a similar spell early in the season, shooting under 40 percent against Wintrop and Kansas. He responded by shooting over 53 percent in the next two games.

“It’s basketball,” Jent said. “Maybe LeBron has skewed it because of his performance this year, but you’re going to have your ups and downs. It’s a matter of what you do when you’re in a rut. You continue to work hard, continue to have a great understanding of your team and what you’re doing. He’s taking the right approach.”

Ohio State senior forward Evan Ravenel expected Thomas to have perform well in the big dance.

“Teams don’t know him,” he said. “They know of him, but they don’t know what he’s capable of. They don’t know how to guard him. Playing in the Big Ten, teams see him all the time.”

Thomas, who leads the Buckeyes with 19 points per game, has shot 16-of-26 from the floor in the tournament (61.5 percent). That’s a big improvement over his season average (44 percent).

“He’s a heck of a player,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We knew he was going to be the most aggressive offensive player we played against this year. The kid makes and takes tough shots from all over the floor. He can score from the post, mid-range and from the three.”

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