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Thomas' career ends in Georgia State's NCAA Tournament loss

By Norwalk Reflector staff • Mar 22, 2019 at 11:46 PM

TULSA, Okla. — The solid collegiate career of Jeff Thomas came to an end in a fitting place on Friday.

A redshirt senior starter for Georgia State University, the Panthers had a tough final minute of the first half, and No. 3-seeded Houston took advantage and rode the momentum to an 84-55 win in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 on Friday.

A 2014 Norwalk graduate, Thomas saw his college career end on the five-year anniversary to the day of his high school career ending — when he helped lead the Truckers to the Division II OHSAA state championship in Columbus.

In Friday's loss, Thomas logged 32 minutes in the game, scoring five points with one rebound and two steals. The Panthers had fallen behind by double-digits early, but had managed to trim the deficit to 36-31 with 1:20 remaining in the first half.

But the Cougars flexed their muscles from there, forcing GSU into a couple bad shots. Meanwhile, they converted at the offensive end and took a 40-31 lead into halftime.

It only got worse from there, as Houston (32-3) opened the second half with the first five points to cap a 9-0 scoring run that gave it a commanding 45-31 lead.

With 14:28 left in the game, Thomas made a 3-pointer with a hand in his face, which brought the Panthers to within 52-41. However, they went on to miss their next 11 shots, and the Cougars blew the game open with another 9-0 scoring run to go up 20 points (61-41), then surged ahead to 73-44 before GSU finally made another field goal.

Georgia State (24-9) was making its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in program history and the third in the last five years — all of which Thomas was on the Atlanta campus for, including two starts.

Last season, the Panthers earned a No. 15 seed and fell to No. 2 Cincinnati, 68-53, despite leading in the second half. In 2015, Thomas was a redshirt as the Panthers were again a No. 14 seed. They became the Cinderella of the ‘Big Dance’ when R.J. Hunter hit a 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play to stun No. 3-seed Baylor as head coach Ron Hunter fell off a stool. The elder Hunter had torn his Achilles in the Sun Belt Conference championship game celebration a week before.

In 2001, as a No. 11 seed, the Panthers upset No. 6 Wisconsin, 50-49 in the first round. Georgia State’s first appearance in the Big Dance came in 1991.

In 34 games, including 32 starts this season, Thomas averaged 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He was 57 of 72 at the free-throw line (79 percent).

The Panthers beat Texas-Arlington for a third time this season in last Sunday’s Sun Belt Conference title game, pulling away early in the second half of a 73-64 win at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. Thomas scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in the win. Already the team’s leading free-throw shooter, he was also 6-of-7 at the foul line in the victory.

In last Saturday’s Sun Belt semifinal 59-46 win over Texas State, Thomas became the new program record holder in career games at GSU. Friday’s NCAA tournament game was his 132nd in a Panthers uniform.

He also ends with 1,160 career points at Georgia State, good for 14th all-time in program history.

At Norwalk, Thomas was the first All-Ohio first team selection in program history. He is the all-time leading scorer for points in a season (561) and second in career points (1,352). He helped the Truckers to 57 straight regular season wins, four straight league championships, one regional title and the state championship in 2014.