With guard Buddy Hield cold from the field and forward Ryan Spangler out for most of the game with foul trouble, Oklahoma should have been in trouble against Tulsa – its two biggest returning weapons neutralized.
Thomas, who is familiar with the Golden Hurricane after his time at Houston, became more than just an early season secondary piece.
He showed that he can be the focal point in an 87-68 victory, the No. 16 Sooners’ eighth straight against Tulsa.
“I don’t think it was me being the focal point,” Thomas said. “I think it was the coaches telling me to be more aggressive when I touch the ball.”
Spangler picked up his second foul just more than 10 minutes into the game, and Hield went 1-for-7 from the field in the first half.
Before the first 20 minutes were complete, Thomas already had a new season-high, and by the end of the game, Thomas finished with a team-high 25 points – just six shy of his career-best.
“We want to play more through the post,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We have the last couple ball games. The results have been much better.”
Since returning from a runner-up finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, Oklahoma has knocked off a pair of opponents each by 19 points.
Isaiah Cousins, who hit a career-high five 3-pointers with the extra room created by Thomas, scored 21 points and went 8-or-14 from the field. Jordan Woodard got the best of his older brother, James. James Woodard was Tulsa’s leading scorer before Saturday but finished with just nine points.
Jordan Woodard tied a season-high with nine assists and had six points and six rebounds for Oklahoma (6-2).
“They’ve got a good ball club. They’re experienced but so are we,” Jordan Woodard said, playing down his brotherly rivalry. “We’ve got another year under our belt, and I feel like we came in and competed hard and were ready for their best shot.”
Oklahoma freshman Khadeem Lattin suffered a right knee sprain during the game and spent much of the second half on the bench with an ice pack on his knee. Kruger said after the game that Lattin could have returned. “He could’ve gone back out there in the second half, if we got to that position so that was encouraging news,” he said.
Thomas showed the quality and the depth of his game. He had four early rebounds and eight of his first 10 points came on second-chance opportunities, where Oklahoma outscored Tulsa, 24-11.
He knocked down a couple mid-range jumpers and even put the ball on the ground to drive to the basket.
Maybe the most impressive part of Thomas’ game Saturday was his willingness to pass. He finished with only two assists, hindered by a 8-for-25 shooting performance from behind the arc.
Thomas took just 12 shots. The rest of the time, he was passing out of the high post and breaking down Tulsa’s zone defense.
“I feel like that gives us a great flow on offense,” Jordan Woodard said. “We have some guys inside that can get the job done. It makes it easier for the guards, in the long run, when the bigs are handling business down low.”