UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas turns, leans in and looks anyone with a question in the eye when he’s being spoken to postgame.
He gives his utmost attention to what the person is doing or saying. It’s a fair trade on his part since everyone was watching him prior.
Washington went into Sunday’s matchup with fourth-ranked Ohio State knowing that Thomas was the Buckeyes’ prime option. The Huskies left still aware of that fact, but without any answers as to how to stop him.
The Huskies (2-2) hung around much of the game with one of the premier teams in the country before losing, 77-66, in the finals of the Hall of Fame Tip-off tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in front of a smattering of fans Sunday.
Thomas, a left-hander with range and funk in his game, dominated the first half. The preseason All-American can make 3-pointers, has a jump hook and doesn’t mind a 15-footer.
Washington assigned 6-foot-6 Scott Suggs to Thomas, rather than 6-foot-10 Jernard Jarreau or 6-foot-7 Desmond Simmons, at the outset, thinking Thomas was more of a perimeter player. Two minutes, 5 seconds into the game, Thomas had seven points. He hit his first five shots on his way to 21 points in the first half. Washington countered with 31 of its own.
That give-and-take left Washington in a 41-31 deficit at intermission. It would get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
When Washington cut it to 44-39 in the second half, Thomas pushed Ohio State back in front by 10 with a swift personal 5-0 run on his way to 31 total points.
Thomas’ scoring flurry was supplemented by the precision of Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft, who went about his work with the meticulous approach of a clock builder. Craft has played 107 minutes in three games for the Buckeyes (3-0) this season and has three turnovers.
“They executed great,” Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy said. “They’re a veteran team and I think what we learned from them is we have to execute down the stretch better.”
The Huskies lamented their first half. Ohio State scored eight second-chance points and had eight points off turnovers. Washington held a short-lived 16-13 lead with 13:46 remaining in the half before the Buckeyes used their lockstep approach to push in front by double-digits before halftime.
“I think the biggest things tonight is we didn’t play too aggressive in the first half,” said C.J. Wilcox, who led Washington with 18 points. “We started to in the second half, and by that time it was too late.”
Washington could also look at its own poor execution. The Huskies missed three layups in the second half and finished with 13 turnovers against 10 assists.
“When you think about it, we got lucky a couple times,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “They missed point-blank layups. Once they got into their sets, we told our guys, because of the talent level, it’s got to be a perfect possession. You’ve got to do everything right.”
Often, Ohio State did. Yet, Washington was able to shoot 50 percent (9-for-18) from behind the 3-point line. That wasn’t enough to counter being outscored by nine at the free-throw line and 14 in the paint.
Packed and ready to fly out on a chartered plane Sunday night, Washington left with an early season perspective of where it is. At 2-2, the Huskies have solid wins over Loyola (Md.) and Seton Hall. The loss to Albany will still hang at the end of every assessment, though the Huskies say they are mentally cleansed of it. The reputable showing against Ohio State is a place to build from.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do and take care of the games we’re supposed to take care of, we’ll be fine,” Gaddy said.