In advance of tonight's home contest against IUPUI (7 p.m., Big Ten Network), OSU head coach Thad Matta said junior starter William Buford and key reserve Deshaun Thomas are fully healthy and ready to go.
While Buford played as much as his foul trouble would allow him when the No. 2 Buckeyes last took the court for a Nov. 30 road win against Florida State, the same could not be said for Thomas. The freshman forward injured his back after grabbing an offensive rebound and coming down hard on his lower back.
He did not return to action, but Matta said he could have played in the second half against the Seminoles had it been absolutely necessary.
"It was more of a bruise," the coach said. "I honestly didn't know how bad it was until I saw it on tape. He took a tremendous fall. He could've gone back in that night but at halftime (athletic trainer Vince O'Brien) and I talked. He said, ‘If you don't need him, let's not play him' and we were able to hold on without him."
Thomas was unable to shoot the two free throws he had earned. He finished with four points in eight minutes of action. That knocked his season scoring average down to 13.0 points per contest, which ranks him third on the roster.
The Buckeyes did not practice the day after the FSU game. In addition, they had a 52-hour stretch of time away from the court during the weekend as the players prepared for final exams.
Although Thomas did not play during the final 20 minutes, Matta said he was impressed with the demeanor the freshman displayed on the bench.
"I'd never seen any player as excited after the Florida State win as I did Deshaun Thomas," the coach said. "It was such a great thing seeing him chest-bumping and high-fiving guys. I said to myself, ‘He's getting close. He understands now.' "
The Buckeyes experienced a similar-looking injury last season when eventual national player of the year Evan Turner slipped off the rim following a dunk and suffered fractured vertebrae in his back. He missed several weeks of action.
Asked if Thomas' fall reminded him of anything, Matta smiled and shook his head as he mentally relived Turner's fall.
"Isn't that the truth?" he said. "I was blocked. I knew (Thomas) went down but I didn't know how hard he actually hit."
As for Buford, the team's leading returning scorer from a season ago has battled back spasms that kept him out of the lineup for a Nov. 23 contest against Morehead State. He returned to action three nights later for his team's home game against Miami (Ohio) and played 30 minutes but scored a season-low seven points.
Against the Seminoles, he finished with nine and fouled out early in the second half after playing a season-low 19 minutes of action. His scoring average of 11.0 points per game this season marks a career-low for the junior who put up 14.4 a season ago.
The time away from the court has apparently done Buford well.
"He's feeling better than he's ever felt," Matta said. "He does treatment every day, he does his stretching but (Monday) he was telling me because (of the time off) he said he feels really good."
The coach added that he has not seen the back holding Buford back other than in the days leading up to the game against Morehead State.
When the Buckeyes have practiced in the past nine days, Matta said they have focused on getting after each other in practice with a lot of up-and-down action on the court. That has been a benefit to freshman Lenzelle Smith, who is still working himself into shape after missing several weeks thanks to offseason wrist surgery.
So it is an OSU team that appears to be rested and healthy that will take the court tonight against the Jaguars. After the layoff, senior forward Dallas Lauderdale said he is ready to take on anyone new.
"Us being the No. 2 team, we're going to get everybody's ‘A' game," he said. "We just have to come prepared and do what we need to do to get the win."
Said Matta: "I think that hopefully we're primed. I know this: I'm ready to play a game. It has been a long time. Hopefully we'll come out in this stretch and be ready to play."