COLUMBUS, Ohio — Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points – missing nine straight shots at one point and making five in a row at another – to lead No. 7 Ohio State past Winthrop 65-55 on Tuesday night.
It was the last tuneup for the Buckeyes (9-1) before Saturday's rematch with No. 9 Kansas. The Jayhawks beat them twice last year, once at Allen Fieldhouse and then in the Final Four.
Whether Ohio State was looking past Winthrop (4-5) and ahead to Kansas, or whether the Eagles just played well and the Buckeyes did not, the game was in doubt until Thomas got hot.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 14 points for the Buckeyes, who have won four in a row, all at home, since a 73-68 defeat at No. 2 Duke on Nov. 28 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge – a game the Buckeyes led most of the way.
Thomas added nine rebounds and a career-high four assists.
Derrick Henry had 12 points to lead Winthrop, which was coming off a 50-49 upset of Ohio University, which has its top nine players back from an NCAA tournament team a year ago. Ohio came in averaging 74.2 points a game, but was shut down by the Eagles.
Thomas hit his first two shots of the night for a quick 5-0 lead, then missed the next nine.
Just as quickly, he changed directions again. He hit five shots in a row from the field – and scored 12 of 14 Ohio State points over a 5 1/2-minute span – as the Buckeyes took a 47-41 lead.
But the Eagles would not go away.
Henry made a 3 from the left wing to cut the gap to three. Thomas passed up a perimeter jumper with a nifty pass to Amir Williams for a three-point play only to have Gideon Gamble add a 3 at the other end to cut the lead to 52-47.
Defense finally turned the tide, fueling an 8-0 run.
Aaron Craft's steal led to him hitting two free throws. Shannon Scott then tipped away a ball and then broke quickly to the basket, taking a long pass from Craft for an easy breakaway layup and a 56-47 lead.
Williams then scored inside off a pass from Smith and the lead was 58-47. Williams then swatted a shot away and then received a pass from Thomas for an easy dunk to push the lead to 60-47 with 5:36 left.
Winthrop got as close as seven points in the final minute.
Ohio State led 31-30 after a dismal first-half performance. The Eagles set the pace, frequently working the ball around the perimeter until there was just a few seconds remaining before attempting a shot.
The Buckeyes led by seven points early only to have Winthrop hold them scoreless for more than 4 minutes to take a 14-12 lead. Later Smith, who had 10 points at the break, hit a 3 and so did LaQuinton Ross to push the lead back to 31-25.
But a 3 by Christian Farmer – he tossed in one earlier with a double-clutch, off-balance heave from almost out of bounds – and a drive by Henry, who had seven at the half, narrowed the lead to a point.
Ohio State, with a decided height advantage, was outrebounded 38-36. It also got little out of its transition game – usually a strength. The Buckeyes forced 14 turnovers and picked up only 17 points off them.
The Buckeyes, winners of 39 straight nonconference games in Columbus, came in as the second-leading scoring team in the Big Ten at 80.1 points a game.