Deshaun Thomas is one of the nation's top scorers, but Ohio State coach Thad Matta knows his team can't afford to rely on only one person to produce on the offensive end.
Matta should again get a good look at Thomas' supporting cast Wednesday night when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes host Savannah State.
A preseason All-American, Thomas is averaging 20.6 points, and he scored 18 in 28 minutes Saturday as Ohio State (6-1) rolled to an 89-55 win over Long Beach State. Though the 6-foot-7 junior has the ability to take over a game, Matta continues to search for some consistent options to help take some pressure off his go-to guy.
"As you look across the board in college basketball and as you get into conference play, the Big Ten defensively is as good as there is in the country," Matta said. "Just having different guys out there that can knock shots down is something that is going to be advantageous."
Recognized more for his ball distribution and defense, star guard Aaron Craft averages 11.0 points but has scored six or fewer three times in his last four games. Craft's backcourt mate Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.0 ppg) is shooting a team-best 48.3 percent from 3-point range after hitting 3 of 4 on Saturday.
"First, we need Deshaun to score, but (it's good) having other guys out there who can put the ball in the basket," said Matta, who experimented with various lineup combinations against the 49ers. The coach said he's especially interested in finding reliable post players.
"Guys have shown that they can play in great spurts, but they have to play at that level all along. That's where this team can take a jump in the right direction in locking that position down."
Sophomore reserve LaQuinton Ross might be the kind of player who can take some of the burden off Thomas. The 6-8 forward has totaled 38 points on 13-of-22 shooting in the last two games while pulling down 17 rebounds.
"Coming off the bench it was always hard, but you've got to get in the game quick because you've got to produce quick," Ross said. "Even if you're not making shots on the offensive end you have to play defense at the other end. My 3s didn't fall this game (0 for 5) but I found other ways to score."
Defense continues to be a strength for the Buckeyes, who rank among the top 25 nationally by holding their opponents to 57.1 points per game and 36.2 percent shooting. Long Beach State shot 31.1 percent from the field, including 5 of 20 from beyond the arc.
The Buckeyes figure to flex their defensive muscle again as they try for a 34th consecutive home win over an unranked, non-conference opponent.
Meeting Ohio State for the first time, Savannah State (5-4) faces its second top 10 opponent after losing 58-40 at then-No. 7 Florida on Nov. 20. The Tigers are led by senior Rashad Hassan, who averages 13.2 points but has totaled 15 in his last two games.
Savannah State will take the court for the first time since a 55-45 home loss to Norfolk State in its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener Dec. 1.
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