Long Beach St.-Ohio St. Preview
They look to display their depth again Saturday when they host a Long Beach State team continuing a brutally difficult early schedule.
Thomas has been living up to his preseason All-America billing, especially while averaging 24.0 points on 54.0 percent shooting during Ohio State's 4-0 start. He's been a bit quieter the last two games - including the Buckeyes' first loss, 73-68 at No. 2 Duke on Nov. 28 - but a pair of teammates shined off the bench in last Saturday's 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky.
LaQuinton Ross scored a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while fellow sophomore Shannon Scott had six assists and no turnovers. Scott also had career highs of 10 points and 10 assists in a win two weeks ago, and Ross is scoring more points per minute than anyone on the team besides Thomas.
"It's going to help us a lot having guys like Shannon and Q come off the bench," Thomas said. "Teams are going to double-team me a lot and having them there to step up is what we need."
Coach Thad Matta has been spreading out the minutes more than last season, with eight players averaging more than 15.
"Coach Matta told us he is not going to have a core five or six group of guys he will play," Ross said. "It is going to be a lot of in-and-out this year. Our team is versatile, so we have the option to have more players play."
After the Buckeyes (5-1) shot a season-low 33.8 percent against Duke, they still had some problems last weekend. They hit 37.7 percent from the field against the Norse, the first time they've been under 40 percent in back-to-back games in nearly a year.
Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. each shot 2 of 9, with Craft following a 3-for-15 performance at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"I didn't think we communicated as well to start the (Northern Kentucky) game as I would have liked, and we didn't make enough shots," Matta said. "We are going to have to put the ball in the basket more moving forward the rest of this season."
They should have plenty of chances during their December-long stretch in Columbus, with the next four against seemingly overmatched opponents before Kansas visits.
Long Beach State (3-5) should at least be familiar with a hostile road atmosphere two days after an 84-53 loss at No. 4 Syracuse. It was the 49ers' third loss to a ranked team this season after defeats against North Carolina and Arizona last month.
Coach Dan Monson's team played a similar non-conference schedule last season, facing five ranked teams before Christmas and winning twice.
"Everybody talks about, 'Well, you're going to lose confidence.' I don't think an 18- or 20-year-old is going to lose confidence," Monson said. "They need reality, and the reality is we've got to get better defensively and rebounding."
The Orange had a 53-39 edge on the boards and Long Beach State shot 29.2 percent from the field. Leading scorer James Ennis (15.6 points per game) scored 10 on 3-of-14 shooting.
In the first meeting between these programs since 1987, the 49ers may not have an easier time scoring against a Buckeyes team holding opponents to 28.9 percent shooting in three home games and featuring the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year in Craft.