Yes, that's a big deal. The 6-7 junior forward has other deals — such as being a finalist for the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year award, and being a near lock to make first team all-Big Ten. It demonstrates that Thomas has evolved from a one-dimensional scorer to an all-around player who defends, rebounds and leads.
Leadership included five straight crunch-time points to snuff out a Hoosier rally. He added eight rebounds and a block.
“He's meant a lot to the program,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “He's a guy that has earned his stripes through hard work and commitment to the program. There are great players on that (Oscar Robertson) list. We're very proud of him for being on that list.”
Also on the list are IU's Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. They didn't rise to the challenge. They combined for 24 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night.
Thomas scores despite being the focal point of every defense. IU put a variety of players on him – Oladipo, Zeller, Will Sheehey. He dealt with it.
Thomas averages nearly one point more — 19.8 to 18.9 — than second-place Trey Burke of Michigan in the Big Ten scoring race. He leads the Big Ten in free throw shooting by a wide margin (84.5 percent to 82.5 percent) over Illinois' D.J. Richardson. He ranks seventh in the conference in three-point baskets made (2.1 a game). He's 13th in rebounding (6.1).
He's scored at least 20 points in eight Big Ten games – including 26 last month in Columbus — and 13 overall. He's recorded five double doubles this season, with his most impressive a 25-point, 13-rebound effort at Michigan last month.
For his career Thomas is at 1,470 points and 519 rebounds. If he stays for his final season rather than declare for the NBA draft (he ranks No. 48 in draftexpress.com's 2013 mock draft), he would likely surpass 2,000 points and 700 rebounds.
If he stays.
Regardless, IU coach Tom Crean is impressed.
“He's got a tremendous mindset to score,” Crean said. “He can score from three; he can score off the dribble; he can score at the post; he can score in the mid-post. He can offensive rebound and score.
“He gets to the foul line at a pretty high rate. He's got a great touch. He's got an extremely quick release.
“There's really not a matchup he seems to struggle with. What you've got to do is make it harder and harder for him to catch the ball. That's the one thing defensively you're trying to do. He's one of those people, you can put him in any gym, any arena, anywhere and he'll probably make a bunch of shots. That's just how he's wired.”
On Tuesday night Thomas was wired to win.
And so he and the Buckeyes did.
Up nextTipoff: Indiana at Michigan, 4 p.m. Sunday
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