Let's be honest: Indiana had no chance of pulling off the upset against No. 2 Ohio State. Not at this time of year and certainly not at Value City Arena. This was a game of staying healthy and building confidence for the Buckeyes more than anything else – similar to a competitive scrimmage in practice.
No one benefited more from the game against the Hoosiers than Thomas, the freshman who had struggled through a scoring slump for the past seven games. Five days earlier in an easy win against Illinois, Thomas appeared to be knocking on the door by hitting on a pair of field goals in addition to a free throw.
Today, he blew the door off its hinges. Regardless of who you are playing, scoring 14 straight points in a Division I college basketball game is an impressive feat.
As the run got started, Thomas would scream as he would run back down the court after scoring. With each basket, his teammates would erupt on the bench in celebration.
This was a performance that was much needed. We already know what the starters can do on this OSU team. Adding in a confident and hot Thomas only makes the Buckeyes even more dangerous.
Aside from the scoring, though, two other things stand out about Thomas' performance. One is that his points mostly came in the flow of the offense. He was not forcing shots or jacking up baskets out of rhythm. Two is that he was as dialed in from a rebounding standpoint as I have seen all season.
He has the height and athletic ability to be a big-time rebounder, but I am not sure I realized that until now.
I think … that some defensive praise has to go the way of Jon Diebler.
The senior has been criticized for being too one-dimensional or slow on the defensive end, but he really elevated his play against the Hoosiers – and it was in a way that would have been equally impressive had it come against a team like Purdue.
On one play, Diebler found himself trying to fend off Indiana's Christian Watford in the paint. The Hoosier has about two inches and 25 pounds on him, but Diebler refused to let Watford get position on the block. Battling for position, Watford grew frustrated and was whistled for a foul as he tried to extricate himself from the senior.
Great play and one that helped frustrate a key Indiana scorer early.
I think … that to demonstrate how important Thomas' first-half production was, examine the production of a few other key players.
In the first 20 minutes, junior guard William Buford had four points on three shots and freshman forward Jared Sullinger had two in only three minutes of action due to foul trouble. Filling the void was Thomas and his 16 first-half points.
It is not often that OSU can survive such a night from Buford. I was talking with a parent of one of the players before the game who told me that he thinks the Buckeyes will go far in the NCAA Tournament barring injuries.
I agreed and added another criterion: that Sullinger stay out of foul trouble. The parent laughed and agreed before adding "Buford, too." It's no doubt anymore that the OSU offense runs through those two.