Feeling became doing Tuesday night for Thomas, the former Bishop Luers standout. He scored 22 points on 13 shots to pace the No. 15 Buckeyes to a 74-64 win at Mackey Arena.
“Him being 6-7, he's long and can get the shot over pretty much anybody,” Byrd said. “He came out and hit that shot on the first play of the game. We can't let that happen.”
That it did happen isn't a surprise. Thomas has averaged 22.6 points in three Big Ten games, 20.3 overall. That's nearly a full two-point lead over the conference's second-leading scorer, Illinois' Brandon Paul (18.5).
“It's very cool,” he said. “It's always been my dream, but I need to keep on adding, keep on getting better each and every day.”
That the former Indiana Mr. Basketball's dream thrived in his home state was a special bonus.
“It's nice to come back and show the people who still follow me how hard I'm working on my game. Knowing that I'm still a great player.”
Greatness has come steadily. As a freshman Thomas averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Last year it was 15.9 and 5.4. This year he averages 6.9 rebounds.
“He's come so far in the three years he's been in the program,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “He's worked hard. I hope he continues to play at the level he is.”
That level enabled him to score despite Purdue's defensive emphasis.
“We didn't' want to let Deshaun Thomas get off to the start he had,” Boiler coach Matt Painter said. He's a tough matchup for most people. He's certainly a tough matchup for us. We have a lot of respect for him. He's going to get his points. We'd like to get his points to match his field goal attempts. He was unbelievably efficient.”
Added Thomas: “I was looking for good shots, looking to knock down shots. I was ready and in a great position and Aaron (Craft) and Shannon (Scott)gave me the ball in the right spots.”
The spots helped the Buckeyes (12-3 overall, 2-1in the Big Ten) bounce back from last Saturday's 19-point loss at Illinois.
“After what happened at Illinois,” Thomas said, “Coach talked about us having toughness and fight. He didn't think we had the fight we needed to have.
“Yeah, this was a must win. We've got to get every road game. Every road game is hard. This shows we can win on the road in a hostile environment. Purdue is loud and crazy. We needed this.”
Purdue (7-8 overall, 1-2 in the conference) got what it didn't need — another what-might-have-been defeat. It shot just 38.8 percent from the field, in part because it continues to miss at-the-rim shots.
“We're getting the shots we want,” Painter said, “but we have to do a better job of converting.”
The Boilers' brothers Johnson (Terone and Ronnie) combined for 29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, which might have been enough if the Boilers hadn't gotten beaten on the boards (37-32) and hadn't stumbled on defense (the Buckeyes shot 55.6 percent for the game)
Purdue center A.J. Hammons added 13 points and eight rebounds. Another former Fort Wayne standout, Purdue's Rapheal Davis from South Side, had eight points in 20 minutes. The freshman was among the Boilers who guarded Thomas.
“He did a good job of competing,” Painter said. “He made good decisions. He plays hard. He's a good listener. He's going to be a good player for us.”
Purdue went 1-2 in a grueling opening Big Ten opening against top-20 teams that started with an upset of Illinois and continued with a loss at Michigan State.
The schedule softens in the next 10 days with a home game against Penn State (8-6 and 0-2) and a trip to Nebraska (9-6 and 0-2) before a non-conference home game against West Virginia (7-6).
Matta emphasized a fast start in the wake of the Illinois loss, when the Buckeyes quickly fell into a double-digit hole they never recovered from.
Thomas set an instant tone by hitting a jumper seconds into the game. He had 11 points in the first 11 minutes as the Buckeyes surged to a 31-17 lead. They had 10 second-chance points thanks to a 12-4 rebound edge.
By halftime that rebound advantage was 22-11 as Ohio State led 39-29 even with Craft playing just five minutes because of foul trouble.
Purdue rallied in the second half, getting as close as six points, before Craft took charge (scoring 13 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes) to help Ohio State hold on.
“When you start from behind,” Byrd said, “it's tough to come back against a team like that.”