Freshman Matt Thomas had a solid night as the sixth man for No. 17 Iowa State in an 85-76 win over No. 19 Texas.
The Onalaska, Wis., native had seven points - going 2-for-4 from beyond the arc - three assists, two steals and zero turnovers in 21 minutes on Tuesday.
The win pulls ISU (20-5, 8-5) within a game of the Longhorns (20-6, 9-4) for second in the Big 12 Conference. Eighth-ranked Kansas remains on top at 20-6, 11-2.
After a 14-0 start to the season, the Cyclones are 6-5 since, including three consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas after the win streak.
They have since bounced back, winning five of six, including wins over three ranked opponents.
Thomas is averaging 6.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and, though it doesn't seem like much, but it’s significant considering his 24 minutes a game, the 6-foot-3 guard is also averaging .6 steals and .3 blocks.
Thomas, who started the first 15 games of the season, has seen his minutes all over the place.
He played 21 on Tuesday and a combined for 29 in the two previous games. Before that, he had a stretch of five games where he averaged 30 minutes. That came after a four-game stretch of averaging 14 minutes.
It could be matchups, it could be his defense or it could be his shooting, as to why his minutes are so inconsistent. He went 1-for-11 from beyond the arc during the three-game skid, but broke out of that funk, going 4-for-6 from deep the very next game, including nailing his first four 3s.
It doesn't help that Thomas has apparently taken some unnecessary heat this season.
It may have been his shooting that cost him a starting job, but I imagine it’s more defense, which relates to matchups.
Anyone who’s played as an underclassmen on a team of veterans knows it’s hard to justify doing anything – taking a shot, driving to the basket – without second guessing yourself. As a freshman, Thomas’ mentality probably leans more toward trying not to make a mistake rather than trying to make a play. But it will come in time, when it's his time.
Playing inconsistent minutes doesn’t help. There’s no way to get rhythm, and he may or may not know how much he’s going to play heading into each game.
“I still feel he’s our best shooter in the perimeter,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg told the Des Moines Register after Thomas had lost his starting job. “Every time he shoots it, I think it’s going in.”
Thomas is shooting just 38.1 percent from the field and 33.9 from beyond the arc. He’s even struggling a bit at the free-throw line (65.4).
Perhaps he should change his Twitter handle from TheIceman_21.
I kid. I kid.
He may be just a 3-point specialists now, the freshman in the corner ready to shoot, but anyone who's seen him at Onalaska High School, knows there's this player that can take over. This isn't his time, though he may just have one of those moments yet this season.