COLUMBUS, OHIO - In one breath, Deshaun Thomas is the star of Ohio State's basketball team.
He leads the Big Ten with an average of 20.1 points per game, a mark that nearly doubles any teammate. He's the highlight of every scouting report; he's what every high school player hopes to eventually be for a top-tier major conference team.
In the next breath, he's the culprit. With complementary pieces Jared Sullinger and William Buford gone from last year's squad, which grabbed a share of the Big Ten title, Thomas -- for better or for worse -- is the face of the program.
When the No. 18 Buckeyes knocked off then-No. 2 Michigan in mid-January and rolled to six victories in seven games, the 6-7, 225-pound junior forward was the heart and soul of a team on the rise. As Ohio State -- coming off three losses in four games, including a 71-49 stinker at Wisconsin on Sunday -- invites similarly struggling Minnesota to Value City Arena on Wednesday, turning things around falls on Thomas' broad shoulders, too.
Maybe it's not fair, but Ohio State is often looked upon as a one-man team.
"It's pretty hard," Thomas said. "In high school it was easy being that guy because you can get away with a lot of stuff. In college, you've got to make sure every possession is important and you get a stop when we need it. Being that guy in college -- it's good to have that [role], but it's kind of hard for me in the end because you know, a lot of people expect you to do a lot. A lot of people are watching you. It's a big target. It's a lot of pressure sometimes."
He said those words in a hallway Tuesday outside the Ohio State media room, where the typical day-before-game news conference was happening. Thomas, however, wasn't brought to the podium. Ohio State's communication department is trying to limit his exposure because the forward is doing so much otherwise.
Beyond his contributions, the Buckeyes are hardly an offensive powerhouse. They rely largely on hard-nosed defense and aggressiveness. As the leader, he wears those hats as well -- guiding the team in ways that might not come naturally, but are now essential.
"That's part of being that guy, too, just doing the little effort things to help your team," Thomas said. "I learned that a lot this year. Last year, we had Jared Sullinger, we had William Buford and we could just play off of them a little bit. But this year, it's just me, so now you've got to do that other stuff instead of just scoring 25 a night. You've got to get like 10 rebounds or you've got to get a big charge or a hustle play."
His supporting cast -- starters Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and Amir Williams -- know they can't stay successful going forward with the weight all on Thomas. At Wisconsin, Thomas scored 18 points and added six rebounds, but with the entire team struggling on defense and only one other player scoring more than six points (Thompson with 10), the Buckeyes were exposed.
"You know Deshaun is going to score the ball, no matter what," Thompson said. "It's up to the other four guys on the floor to make the open shots that are there, to make the plays that are there and stay aggressive, not just jump on Deshaun's back to carry us."
Said Gophers coach Tubby Smith: "He's just a complete player, and he's a guy that looks for his shot. ... I've always been a fan of him, and I like the way he works."
Ohio State coach Thad Matta has prodded his star, knowing he is capable of the complete game Ohio State needs its leader to have on a nightly basis.
But Matta doesn't have to nudge him often, Thomas said. Win or lose, star or culprit, he accepts his role and finds challenges in it.
"I want to be that guy," Thomas said. "I want to be that guy who can stop somebody on defense, I want to be that help guy. I want to be that guy who will probably take that last shot, you know what I'm saying? I want to be that guy who will be there and be that leader."