Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into his team's game with Ohio State, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers thought he had the plan to upset the No. 14 Buckeyes (15-4, 5-2): stop Deshaun Thomas.
And holding the Big Ten's leading scorer to 11 points on just 4-of-13, the Nittany Lions (8-12, 0-8) followed that plan accordingly, except Thomas' struggles didn't yield the result that Chambers was hoping for. That's because while the junior forward turned in one of his less impressive performances of the season, OSU's Sam Thompson turned in perhaps his best.
Scoring a game-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, Thompson just nearly missed his career high of 18 points, which he set in the Buckeyes' win over UNC-Asheville earlier this season. Thompson's effort helped him lead his team to a 65-51 win over Penn State, and it furthermore proved that he's capable of being more than just a good defender and spectacular dunker.
"I really did the easy part," Thompson said of his performance. "Guys found me, I was wide open, and I just knocked down some shots."
For Thompson, however, knocking down open shots has been easier said than done this season.
In his first year as a starter, Thompson has performed admirably, but really hasn't broken out as a consistently reliable offensive player, averaging 7.5 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting. Most of those points have come inside the paint, as seen evident by the Chicago native's 26 percent shooting percentage from 3-point range entering Saturday's contest.
After spending the offseason revamping his jump shot with OSU assistant Chris Jent, those numbers were considered to be disappointing ones for Thompson, who was being counted on to step up his offensive game in his sophomore season. If Saturday's showing against the Nittany Lions was any indication, the former four-star recruit's improvement may just be coming a little later than expected.
Starting the game off with a 6-of-6 shooting performance, it wasn't until there was less than three minutes remaining in the game that Thompson missed his first shot of the day. The 6-foot-7, 190-pounder scored in a variety of ways, including making 3-pointers, free throws, jumpers, and yes, a dunk.
"Sam was tremendous today. I really challenged Sam to play his best basketball," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "From the standpoint of what he brought to the table today, I couldn't be happier for him."
Perhaps Thompson's most impressive play, however, came on one of his two assists. With two players collapsing on the sophomore, Thompson dropped off a behind the back pass to classmate Shannon Scott, who sunk a jumper in rhythm.
But while Thompson gave his teammates credit for finding him, the forward gave his teammate props for completing the play.
"I did the easy part," Thompson said. "I had two guys on me, and I just dropped it off to Shannon."
The all-around showing from Thompson came to the delight of Matta, who just a day earlier had pleaded for a more consistent effort from the first-year starter. It wasn't to the delight of Chambers, however, who was convinced that halting Thomas would stop the Buckeyes in the process.
"If you told me that we'd hold Deshaun Thomas to 11 points, I'd tell you we're in the game with a chance to win," Chambers said.
With performances like Thompson's on Saturday, that line of thinking may be changing.
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