Thomas, Sibert Step Into Spotlight
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — With just under seven minutes to play in the first half of Saturday’s semifinal game, Ohio State freshman Jordan Sibert stripped Michigan freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. near midcourt and took it all the way to the hoop for a two-handed slam.
“It was an ice-breaker for me,” said Sibert, who gave Ohio State 10 strong minutes off the bench in the first half.
“That’s what they preach to us, our offense is generated by our defense. Jared (Sullinger) and Dave (Lighty) told me play smart and play hard. I kept that in mind. Just being to go out there and play extremely hard on defense and play smart and come away with a big steal and a big dunk.”
It was the first time Sibert had scored a point for the Buckeyes since Feb. 27, when he had three points in eight minutes during an 82-61 win over Indiana. Those three points were one shy of his season-high, which came in the season-opener against North Carolina A&T all the way back in early November.
Since then, Sibert had quietly waited for his chance to make an impact. On Friday he told the-Ozone that he would be ready when his number was called. No one could have known how quickly that time would come.
The freshman out of Cincinnati Princeton played a total of 41 minutes during the entire 18-game conference schedule, but he suddenly found himself thrust into meaningful minutes against the Wolverines as both David Lighty and Aaron Craft sat on the bench with two fouls.
“That's what we do. In practice, when somebody goes down, we move on. We still play, and play hard,” said fellow freshman Deshaun Thomas.
“Practice is more intense on defense. And when Dave and Craft went down, I told Jordan that it was time to step up, and we did when it counted.”
Thomas and Sibert combined for six points and three rebounds in the first half as the Buckeyes held Michigan to just 37 percent shooting from the floor despite the fact they were without their two best defensive players for all but 13 combined minutes.
“They did a great job, those guys, and Deshaun has played a lot more than Jordan has throughout the course of this season, but they continue to work hard every day in practice and get the job done,” OSU Head Coach Thad Matta said of his two freshmen.
“This was just an opportunity for them and I was very pleased with what they brought to the table.”
Thomas is known primarily for bringing offense to the table, but the freshman out of Fort Wayne, Ind. showed off a little bit of defense with his block of Zach Novak on a three-point attempt in the open court.
“That was one of my main focuses, coming in and playing defense in scramble mode,” Thomas said.
“And I blocked it and everybody greeted me when I got to the bench.”
On the other end, Thomas missed on his first shot of the night, a wide-open, baseline jumper from 12 feet out. He connected on his second attempt and then buried a three early in the second half to give the Buckeyes their largest lead of the game to that point at 34-27.
“We all talk about it. Once the first one goes it, then it's like I'm rolling. Everybody knows on the team,” said Thomas, who has a number of nicknames related to his quick trigger.
“It felt pretty good. It was a good look. Wide open. It just went in and out, but I knew the second time I was gonna hit it and knock it in.”
It was easy to see that Thomas was feeling it on the three-pointer as he held up three fingers, ala Jon Diebler. He then gave the crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse a salute like he was Terrelle Davis playing at Mile High Stadium.
“That felt great. Just back in the high school days. We're out here having fun, that's what we do,” said Thomas, who was Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana last year.
“So doing that, just having fun, and getting the crowd involved.”
Thomas finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting to go with four rebounds, but did have a bad foul on Hardaway late in the game as he was shooting a three.
“When I got those little cheap fouls, coach was like, 'Deshaun, just keep your head up, you played a heck of a game', and that put a smile on my face,” he said after playing 21 minutes.
“Just being ready – me and Dallas (Lauderdale) and Jordan – that's what we gotta do when we come in, because you never know.”
In a win-or-go-home tournament, you really never do know.
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