CHICAGO — Sam Thompson went to high school two blocks from the United Center and looked forward to his homecoming for weeks.
He could not have imagined how special it would be.
The Ohio State guard saved his best for the court on which he dreamed of playing. Thompson hit a career-high three 3-pointers and stirred the crowd — including a number of family and friends — with a rim-rattling alley-oop slam in the Buckeyes’ 71-50 victory over Nebraska in Friday night’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal. He finished with a career-best 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
"I wouldn’t say I had jitters," Thompson said. "It was more excitement than anything. I’ve always wanted to play here. It was fun.""
Thompson said he grew up going to Bulls games and idolized Michael Jordan. But he had never gotten the chance to play at the United Center until Friday.
OSU coach Thad Matta said he had a feeling the 6-foot-7 sophomore would have a big night after the team bus drove past Thompson’s high school — Whitney Young — on the way to the United Center.
"Everyone pointed to it for him," Matta said. "Sam has been a steady this season, and I’ve always said this: When he takes his shots, he can leave out of Ohio State as one of the greatest that has ever played here."
Thompson, known for his defense and reported 46-inch vertical leap, is averaging 7.4 points this season. He has started all 31 games.
HARDAWAY OK: Adding injury to insult, the Wolverines endured a first-half scare Friday when Tim Hardaway, Jr., landed awkwardly on the foot of Wisconsin’s Mike Brusewitz.
The junior guard needed help leaving the court and limped into the locker room. But he returned minutes later and finished with 14 points. "I'm fine now," said Hardaway, who diagnosed the injury as a mild ankle sprain.
COMING AND GOING: If Northwestern decides to look for a new coach, will OSU need to find a new assistant?
Probably not. But the Chicago Tribune listed Thad Matta’s three assistants — Jeff Boals, Dave Dickerson, and Chris Jent — among the candidates to replace Bill Carmody because of the Buckeyes’ success recruiting in Northwestern’s backyard. OSU’s recent haul from the Chicago area includes Evan Turner and current guards Lenzelle Smith and Sam Thompson.
Carmody’s future remains uncertain after the Wildcats’ second straight losing season. The 13th-year coach, who restored Northwestern to respectability but kept alive its 0-for-forever streak of NCAA Tournament misses, said he will meet soon with athletic director Jim Phillips.
Asked about his future after the Wildcats’ first-round tournament loss to Iowa, Carmody said, "I don't think that this is the time for that." The most widely mentioned replacement candidate is Duke associate head coach Chris Collins, a Chicago native.