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Ohio State not afraid to let Thomas keep shooting

Junior still confident despite slump

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Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas, right, averages a Big Ten-best 19.5 points per game. But he’s shooting only 38 percent from the field the past 13 games as the Buckeyes enter the NCAA tournament.

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COLUMBUS — Deshaun Thomas’ plan to shake his recent shooting slump is just what Ohio State fans might have imagined — and feared.

“Keep shooting,” he said. “Keep shooting.”

For the Buckeyes, this shooter’s creed presents the ultimate double-edged dilemma as they open the NCAA tournament Friday against 15th-seeded Iona.

If there is danger in a player who’s shooting 38 percent during the past six weeks using a win-or-go-home setting as his personal laboratory, OSU will risk it.

A year after Thomas’ blistering shooting touch helped steer the Buckeyes to the Final Four, the junior star getting his groove back could be the last link for an Ohio State team on an eight-game winning streak to mine its full — and suddenly immense — potential this season.

“I feel locked in,” he said. “I’m just going to be ready. Whatever play is drawn up, I’m going to be ready to shoot.”

Thomas, who considered leaving for the NBA draft after last season but decided to return and be the man, has labored through a complicated season.

A preseason All-American, he was the Big Ten’s regular-season scoring champion, averaged a team-high 6.2 rebounds, and earned first-team all-conference honors. Yet his efficiency has suffered in the spotlight.

Now the 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 15.9 points on 52 percent shooting as a sophomore — and was even better in the first four games of the NCAA tourney — is feeling the heat against the pull-out-all-stops focus of opposing defenses.

Thomas, who averages 19.5 points, has watched his shots rim out with increasing frequency. He’s shooting 38 percent from the field during the past 13 games and was 6 of 19 in each of the Buckeyes’ last two Big Ten tournament games.

“It was pretty easy to score last year because everybody’s focus was on [center Jared Sullinger], and I was just sitting back and being relaxed and being patient,” said Thomas, who shoots 44 percent overall and 34 percent from the arc.

“I had a great year last year. This year, kind of by being the man and being that scorer, it gives you a little pressure.”

So he continues to work, putting up extra shots before and after practices while scrutinizing his form with Chris Jent, the staff’s resident shooting guru. Thomas said fatigue is a factor — coaches want him to use his legs more — but the main focus is being more patient. To stop, for instance, forcing so many 3-pointers.

“The shots I take, they’re questionable,” Thomas said with a sheepish smile. “I was watching film with Jent, and he said the bad shots you’re taking are killing your percentage.”

Coach Thad Matta is not sweating it. Unlike in past years, when he called the enigmatic stat-stuffer “Shaun” because he played no “D,” Thomas is no longer a liability when his shot is off.

He’s also proven adept in the clutch, his recent resume including the game-winning leaner in the Buckeyes’ victory against Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney semifinals.

Still, imagine how the Buckeyes would look if Thomas straightened his shot in time for a deep postseason run. Matta has, and he calls his star’s recent struggles “water under the bridge.”

“Just do what you do and make shots,” he said. “I’ve never been one to panic when I’ve had a great shooter and he doesn’t shoot particularly well. I’ve got great confidence he’ll be in great shape.”

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.

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