It hasn’t been Sam Thompson’s threat as an offensive weapon that has kept him as a permanent fixture in Ohio State’s starting lineup this season. Head coach Thad Matta is still waiting for that part of the sophomore’s game to develop.
“I think he has one more gear that we’re trying to get out,” Matta said.
In trying to find that gear, Matta approached Thompson during Ohio State’s shootaround the evening prior to the Buckeyes’ 65-41 win over Penn State on Saturday.
The head coach expressed concerns about an assortment of Thompson’s statistics during the first six games of Big Ten play, but none of which were related to the forward’s points per game average or his shooting percentage.
“He didn’t mention so much the offensive end as much as the defensive end and rebounding the ball,” Thompson said. “He really wanted me to focus on rebounding the ball and defending well.”
Matta pointed out to Thompson that he grabbed only one offensive rebound and had four steals during that span, statistics he knows could translate well into boosting the forward’s offensive productivity.
The message from Matta was simple, yet powerful. He wanted Thompson to perfect the reasons he’s remained in Ohio State’s starting lineup – defense and rebounding – with the hope the sophomore would realize he’d arrive as a scoring threat by playing to his strengths.
“I want to keep my energy level up, I want to defend well and I want to have my defense and my rebounding really translate over to the offensive end,” Thompson said. “I want to get some steals and get myself and my team going in transition and just knock down open shots and make the plays that are there for me.”
There were instant results for Matta. Thompson responded to the brief chat with by leading all scorers with 16 points off of 6-of-7 shooting in Ohio State’s win over the Nittany Lions, all while posting two blocks, two steals and six rebounds.
It was perhaps Thompson’s most productive game of the season – it was the first time he reached double-digit scoring in Big Ten play all season – and it came in a road contest when Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State’s leading scorer, managed only 11 points.
“There were a couple things we wanted Sam to do, and making shots wasn’t one of them,” Matta said. “It was taking good shots and open shots in the flow of the game, and fortunately they were going down for him.”
Ohio State (15-4, 5-2 Big Ten) instantly becomes a better basketball team if Thompson can make it a trend. The Buckeyes have yet to prove they’re something other than a one-man show relying on Thomas’ scoring output, even with inexhaustible defender Aaron Craft and versatile weapon Lenzelle Smith Jr. in the starting lineup.
“We have so many great weapons offensively between Deshaun, Lenzelle, Aaron in the starting lineup, I am sometimes kind of the odd man out in that equation,” Thompson said. “I really have to start knocking down shots and being more ready when the ball comes my way.”
It remains to be seen whether Thompson has found himself as a consistent offensive weapon during a season where he admits opposing defenses have left him at times while concentrating on slowing other players in Ohio State’s lineup.
One blip on the scoring radar against Penn State isn’t going to take away Thompson’s lack of production in both of Ohio State’s losses in conference action. He had one point and missed all five of his shots in a loss at Illinois and he scored only three points in the team’s close defeat at Michigan State.
The Buckeyes next test comes tonight against Wisconsin in Value City Arena at 7 p.m., a game that will have great implications in the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes and Badgers (14-6, 5-2) are both only a game behind Big Ten leaders Indiana and Michigan.
“It is always good to have a good game, especially in conference play,” Thompson said. Your opponents know you so well and it is always going to be a rough night in the Big Ten. It is definitely a confidence booster and definitely felt good to get going like that offensively. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
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