HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The core of Chris Thomas' game on a basketball court always has been full speed ahead. After 21 games in a Marshall uniform, though, the sophomore is learning it's not always prudent to live in fifth gear.Thomas' introduction to Division I men's basketball - which continues at 7 p.m. Thursday when the Thundering Herd (7-14, 1-5 Conference USA) hosts Florida International - hasn't always been smooth, his shooting hand not always hot. He said he's getting past those rough patches and trying to learn to not just play a fast pace, but the right pace.Thomas' speed has been his calling card through youth basketball in his hometown of Denver, Colo., Princeton Day Academy in Maryland and Chipola Junior College in Florida. With it, he became one of the nation's most sought-after recruits, ranked No. 1 among shooting guards in the Rivals.com class of 2013."I feel like the game comes easy to me in transition and when I can score the basketball," Thomas said.That became evident in his sixth - and, so far, best - game with the Herd, Marshall's 74-64 comeback win over Western Kentucky. Elijah Pittman had been tossed five minutes into the game after a flagrant foul and, with the Herd needing someone to pick up the scoring slack, Thomas dropped a game-high 27 points with five rebounds and six steals, driving to the basket with ease.Yet when opponents realized how dangerous the 6-foot-5, 188-pound Thomas was dashing to the hoop, they started devising ways to neutralize him."A lot of people play my drive and know what I'm capable of," Thomas said. "It's just adjusting to every game, letting the game come to me and just taking what I get. I have to take what they give me and knock the shot down."
Every game since that Western Kentucky win has been an up-and-down quest to regain that dominance. Thomas struggled from the floor many games after that. He made seven of eight shots in Marshall's win over Alice Lloyd, but that was the only game in the 13 after WKU that he made more than half the shots he took. Among the stumbles were a 1-for-8 game versus Vanderbilt, a 4-for-13 game against Arkansas State and a 1-for-13 game against North Texas.Marshall coach Tom Herrion said the key to Thomas' on-court growth is for him to learn the correct moments to be aggressive and attack the rim.He feels Thomas has started to play at a much better pace and has improved in picking his spots, which bolsters his productivity.
"If you beat one guy and there's two more there, chances are you can't beat the other two," he said. "You have to make a better decision at that point and I think he's learning that."It's that delicate balance," Herrion added. "Be aggressive but smart. Be aggressive but patient."Thomas agrees that being calculated about sprinting to the basket, rather than attacking with reckless abandon, has helped his game."I've got to be more choosy, pick better angles to attack and know when to attack," Thomas said. "There'll be 6-foot-9 people down there and they might be a little stronger than me. I've just got to know when to attack and I've got to finish when I do attack."While the Herd wants Thomas to be smarter with his offense, no one wants him to be hesitant. Herrion has called him "scary fast." Teammate Shawn Smith called him "a walking bucket." The players see every day how explosive Thomas is at getting to the hoop. His roommate, sophomore guard Tamron Manning, said he reminds Thomas to remain confident.
"I just tell him that you can't let one game affect the next game, especially now that (the conference schedule is) a Thursday-Saturday setup," Manning said. "You can't let Thursday's game affect how you play Saturday because you'll have two bad games before you know it. I always tell him to have a short memory."That advice looks like it's started to sink in. Thomas has shot 60 percent from the floor in Marshall's last two games, making three of five shots in 19 minutes versus Rice and six of 10 in 27 minutes against Louisiana Tech. He is one of three active Herd players averaging double digits in scoring, with 11.2 points per game, and is shooting 41.3 percent from the floor for the season.Though the Herd is mired in a deep slump, losing 12 of its last 15 games, Thomas feels there's still a chance to bounce back."We're still a team and I still want to work with my team to get better," he said. "I'm happy to be here."Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.