Numbers dip for Thomas, but he keeps energy up

Khyri Thomas, a freshman from Omaha Benson, beats DePaul's Aaron Simpson to a loose ball during Saturday's victory. "He's an energy guy and he brought it today," Creighton teammate Isaiah Zierden said.

A young player's expectations sometimes can get chewed up trying to adapt to the rigors of the first college basketball season.

Take Creighton's Khyri Thomas.

"In high school, we were all 'the man,' " Thomas said. "That's what I kind of came expecting, scoring a lot of points and being Mr. Omaha and all that.

"But I've learned it's not about me. This is a team, and everybody has their part to do. It's about not being selfish, staying aggressive and doing what I can do."

Thomas is heading into the stretch run of a freshman season that saw him start every game. He scored 18 points in his first game — the most by a freshman in his debut since 2007 — and was near-perfect, missing one shot, in scoring 22 points in a December loss to Loyola.

The 6-foot-3 guard from Omaha Benson was averaging 9.9 points and shooting 62.2 percent from the field — 66.7 percent from 3-point range — heading into Big East play. That's when things started to flip.

Shots aren't falling. His minutes fluctuated. There have been times when the confidence that Thomas played with in the early going appears to have deserted him.

Despite the struggles, Thomas continues to soldier on.

"Guys keep talking to me about staying aggressive and scoring and shooting wide-open shots and attacking the basket," Thomas said. "Even when I miss a shot or do something stupid, the coaches tell me to stay with it and be confident.

"The thing I know about myself is that I tend to mess up when I'm not confident in myself. And I don't want to mess this thing up."

Older teammates, some who experienced their share of first-year struggles, are quick to support Thomas.

"I've talked to Khyri and told him we need him," junior guard Isaiah Zierden said. "He's important to our team and I try to keep him confident.

"This little stretch he's been in probably is more about him being in his head about not playing well. It's a long season, especially for freshmen, but we have confidence in him so we're trying to make sure it rubs off on him."

Point guard Maurice Watson has delivered a similar message.

"When a guy isn't playing to the expectations he might have for himself, it's easy to fall back," Watson said. "We just keep telling 'Taz' that we got him and we're trying to make him see the confidence we have in him.

"He's so hard on himself because he wants to be a great player, but he's young and he has to realize it's going to take time. He had a great nonconference but everyone goes through slumps. We're going to see his real character when he breaks out of this."

Thomas' dip in production in con-ference play has dropped his scoring average to 6.7, as he has not scored more than seven in any of Creighton's 11 Big East games. He's made 13 of 43 shots from the field (30.2 percent) and 4 of 18 (19.0 percent) from beyond the arc against league opponents.

Thomas' struggles have left him embracing a role that he grasped immediately last summer. He made an instant impression in summer workouts as a guy who had the potential to play stifling defense while adding plenty of energy on the court.

"I knew they were expecting me to be Mr. Hustle on defense," Thomas said. "And I know I still bring energy to this team. Once I get into it, everyone gets into it."

Thomas came out in Saturday's game against DePaul intent on provid-ing his team with a dash of energy as the Bluejays tried to break a three-game losing skid.

He picked up an early steal, hit the floor a couple times chasing loose balls and help set the early defensive tone on Billy Garrett Jr., the Blue Demons' second-leading scorer who was held without a point in Creighton's 88-66 win.

Thomas' final stat line might have been pedestrian — two points, two rebounds, three assists, two turnovers and two steals in 15 minutes — but his teammates sensed he showed more zip than he did in some recent outings.

"He's an energy guy and he brought it today," Zierden said. "He's talented enough on both ends, and he just needs to make sure he knows that."

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