Matt Thomas swears he did the right thing Wednesday against Kansas, pulling his dribble back against 7-footer Joel Embiid in the open court.
Given the same opportunity Saturday against Oklahoma, in transition against OU's 6-foot-8 Ryan Spangler, Thomas was aggressive instead of timid, driving right at Spangler and converting a layup despite the foul.
"I actually think that play against Kansas was probably the right play," Thomas said Saturday after ISU's 81-75 win over the Sooners. "I thought about it afterwards, but honestly I think he would have pitty-patted the ball if I had put it up. Maybe I could have shot-faked. Today I saw an open lane and took it. Obviously Spangler's not as big and athletic as Embiid."
Even if the sequences weren't exactly the same — Embiid has extraterrestrial defensive abilities; Spangler does not — they do illustrate a gradual climb in confidence for Thomas, whose freshman season is beginning to turn around after a rocky few months.
"I got to the rim that one play, for probably the first time all year, and finished," Thomas said. "I just felt confident … guys were getting me looks and looking for me on the perimeter and I was knocking down shots."
To win in Stillwater for the first time since 1988 (the Berlin Wall was still standing, this writer wasn't born yet and a gallon of gas cost 91 cents) the Cyclones could use gutty shots from Thomas, who's 9-for-17 from distance the last three games.
It's the best three-game stretch this season for the shooting guard, a tick better than a 9-for-19 stretch in late-November and early-December against BYU, UMKC and Auburn.
The games this month matter slightly more, ISU sitting tied for sixth in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State (4-4 conference records for each).
Thomas' hot streak was preceded by a repulsive one — 1-for-11 from three-point range as the Cyclones dropped their first three games of the season. December was a cold time for Thomas as well; he shot 31 percent from three-point range that month, coach Fred Hoiberg's reluctance to shake up anything during a program-best win streak the only thing keeping Thomas in the starting five.
After Thomas' 0-for-3 shooting performance in 12 minutes the first game against Oklahoma, Hoiberg gave him the hook, tabbing Naz Long as the starting two-guard (Monté Morris got his first career start Saturday over Long).
Taking a few games to adjust, Thomas now appears to have it figured out just in time for the Cyclones' Big 12 home stretch.
"I'm not thinking where earlier in the season I was over-thinking a lot on the court," he said. "My teammates and coaches have always had my back. They've believed in me the whole way. I tip my hat to them."
Battle Royale: Smart V. Kane
To wit: Smart is 3-for-28 from three-point range in his last three games and recently posted an offensive rating (kenpom.com) of 66, the second-worst of his career. The sophomore's assists are still there — 23 in the last four games — but the turnovers are, too (12 in that stretch).
Kane hasn't been as bad, but he hasn't been much better from the field: 2-for-8, 2-for-9, 6-for-10 and 2-for-8 on two-point shots the last four game, while he's actually been pretty good from three-point range recently and, moreso, the entire season (36 percent).
It's been almost a month since Kane's ridiculous 30-8-9-5 game against Baylor. The senior followed that up with strong outings against Oklahoma and Kansas, but since then hasn't seemed like himself. He's due — but so is Smart.
Projected Starting Five (ht, yr, ppg, rpg, field goal %)
PG: DeAndre Kane (6-4, sr., 16.1, 6.6, 5.8*, 48.8).
G: Monté Morris (6-2, fr., 6.5, 2.8*, 44.4).
F: Dustin Hogue (6-6, jr., 11.2, 8.9, 52.4).
F: Melvin Ejim (6-6, sr., 18.1, 7.8, 51.3).
F: Georges Niang (6-7, so., 16.4, 4.1, 49).
PG: Marcus Smart (6-4, so., 17.2, 5.7, 4.5*, 2.5#, 41.8).
SG: Markel Brown (6-3, sr., 16.9, 5.3, 49.4).
F: Brian Williams (6-5, jr., 7.5, 3.9, 51.4).
F: Le'Bryan Nash (6-7, jr., 14, 5.9, 54.1).
C: Kamari Murphy (6-8, so., 6, 5.6, 56.8).
*assists per game; #steals per game.
What else to know about Oklahoma State?
Clark was averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 assists in 16 minutes this season, taking a mere 16.5 percent of the team's shots when he was on the court.
Forte missed all four of his attempts from distance against Baylor, but be warned: He's a peaks-and-valleys guy. The game before, against Oklahoma, he was 6-for-6 from three. Before OU, he shot 1-for-9 versus West Virginia. And finally, before that outing, Forte was 7-for-10 from the perimeter at Kansas.