Ohio State freshman Bruce Thornton enjoying benefits of Bahamas exhibition trip

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – In time, the keys to Ohio State's plans will belong to Bruce Thornton. For now, they’re being shared with Isaac Likekele, a veteran of more than 100 high-level college basketball games during four seasons at Oklahoma State.

While Likekele will be vital to Ohio State’s success during his lone season with the program, the future belongs to his freshman counterpart. The sooner Thornton can accept the critical role of running the point for the Buckeyes, the better their chances of realizing whatever their potential is. So while the chance to play a pair of summer exhibition games as part of a foreign exhibition trip was significant for an Ohio State roster with so much turnover, it was exponentially so for Thornton.

In wins against the Egyptian and Puerto Rican national teams, Thornton got to the rim when necessary. He distributed the ball and found teammates in open spots. He also took a few ill-advised jumpers, fired a couple of off-target passes for turnovers and otherwise looked like a talented player still three months away from making his collegiate debut.

“This is a big experience for me personally to get a good feel with the team,” he said. “A whole new team, a lot of freshmen. There’s a lot of older guys who have been leading me the whole summer and I appreciate that. It all came together real nice (here). I feel like we’ve got a good chance during the season to do some big things.”

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As a senior, Thornton earned Georgia Mr. Basketball honors to cap a stellar prep career at Alpharetta Milton. He arrived at Ohio State as a four-star prospect and billed as a hard-nosed, physical competitor willing to do whatever his team needed to do to win. That type of well-rounded profile made him a priority recruit for Ohio State as coach Chris Holtmann searched for a cornerstone point guard around whom a team could be built.

Getting there will take time and patience. That much was clear in the Bahamas, but so was the potential.

“He’s been consistently really, really good in terms of his approach every day in practice,” Holtmann said after Sunday’s win against Puerto Rico. “Now, is he ready to as a freshman point guard go single-handedly win you the game? No. That’s not necessarily the way his game’s ever been built, but he made very critical plays offensively and defensively late in both games.”

In the win against Egypt, Thornton had a sequence where he had the ball stripped while trying to instigate the offense only to make the final close-out and force the Pharaohs into a shot-clock violation. Then, at the other end of the court, he bullied his way into the paint for a layup and then on the next possession did it again, drew an extra defender and dished it to Zed Key for a dunk.

Against a more athletic Puerto Rican team, Thornton went 5 for 6 from the floor – all on layups or floaters – and finished with 11 points. He started a fast break that led to a Felix Okpara dunk, was one of three players to dive on a loose ball to force a turnover and was instrumental in helping the Buckeyes build a 13-point lead during the third quarter when he banked in a straight-on runner, stole the ball at the other end and finished with a powerful drive to the left block that he finished with his right hand while drawing a foul and converting the three-point play.

“My whole thing was to get a win and get out my comfort zone,” Thornton said. “Just play as hard as I can as long as I can because I know the minutes is way different than high school. I feel like I played within myself, I got two dubs and ain’t no better feeling than that.”

Although Holtmann liberally rotated players and utilized different starting lineups in both games, Thornton was on the court in the final minutes as the Buckeyes salted away wins.

“Pretty confident he’s going to find his way in late-game situations because he’s going to be important for us both offensively and defensively,” Holtmann said.

The learning curve will only get sharper for the Buckeyes when they return for fall workouts. While they try to figure out how to make it all work, much of that will center on how quickly their freshman point guard can mature.

It won’t be a linear progression. There are some things that can’t be learned until games against similar competition. It will be a challenge, but this summer has Thornton ready to work.

“I’m way more confident than the start of the summer,” he said. “I really don’t know yet what the Big Ten will be like, but just preparing myself, my body and my mental for the season, big things will happen in the future.”


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