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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 03/21/2011 8:12 AM

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Men's Basketball
The Turning Point - NCAA Third Round - George Mason
By Tony Gerdeman

The Buckeyes weren't themselves. They looked a little bit nervous - possibly rattled - and the four turnovers in the first 3:21 of the game proved it.

This was not the same Ohio State team that we had watched all season long. They were on their heels, a little lost even. Then Thad Matta inserted freshman point guard Aaron Craft into the lineup and suddenly the clouds parted, the sun shone and the sky blued.

When Craft came into the game, the Buckeyes were losing 9-2 and in need of a floor general. He took control of the offense, calmed his team down, and then when they were ready, he throttled up the gas. When he finally let up and left the game, the Buckeyes were ahead by 35 points.

You want a great stat? In the six minutes Craft spent on the bench in this game, the Buckeyes had five turnovers. In the 34 minutes he was on the floor, they had four.

But his impact wasn't felt just on the offensive end. In the six minutes without Craft, George Mason scored 16 points. Over the course of a forty-minute game, that equates to 107 points. However, in the 34 minutes with him on the court, they only scored 50.

Clearly, Aaron Craft is the Human Turning Point.

"I was contemplating taking a timeout, and I honestly was saying I'm going to let us play our way out of this," recounted Matta when talking about George Mason's initial run.

"I knew we needed to get Aaron in just by the way that they got the baskets. But also I thought it was going to help our offense. That's why I love bringing in Aaron. I said this all year: I love bringing him in off the bench. He gives us a spark. It's like a different dimension of how we're playing at that point."

If what Aaron Craft brought to this game was "a spark", then that is one hellacious flint.

The Buckeyes outscored George Mason 50-17 with Craft in the lineup in the first half. That's not a spark, that's a supernova.

Probably the only person who wouldn't think much of it is Craft himself.

"Anytime I get in, I try to give us any lift I can, whether it's playing defense or finding the open guy," he said.

"I think our run was more predicated on Dave (Lighty). He started knocking down shots for us and we started playing, getting back to our game plan. So it wasn't any different than any other game; I was just excited to get in and play my role."

He's correct to a point - when he does enter the game, good things usually happen, and in that way it's no different than any other game. But what happened in this game is on a scale that is hard to even give it its proper due.

It's hard to imagine that somebody could control a game on offense while only shooting three times and scoring six points. Or that he could control a game on defense without blocking a shot, and having a below-average (for him) day with just two steals.

But then you look closer and see that he had 15 assists, many of them on three-pointers, and you see that George Mason turned the ball over on three straight possessions upon Craft entering the game. They finished with 17 turnovers, 16 of which came with Craft on the floor.

He started everything for the Buckeyes. If this game was a crime scene--and in many ways it was--it wouldn't be hard to find the accelerant that caused the blaze.

"Him just putting pressure on the ball and disrupting the team's offensive flow just picks us all up that much more on the defensive end," remarked David Lighty of Craft.

"I think when our defense is clicking, our offense kind of goes with it and that's pretty much what happened today."

Yeah, pretty much.

The Buckeyes started 1-4 from the field. Then Craft came into the game and they scored on their next four possessions to take the lead for the first time.

Aaron Craft wasn't just the turning point, he was the point at which Thad Matta hit the reset button and started the entire game over. Unfortunately for George Mason, they had no such button of their own.

"Once Craft entered the game, they had the way of finding that right guy, of him distributing the ball, whether it would be over the top to Sullinger when we couldn't help, or whether it was to Lighty," said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga.

"Lighty was on fire. He just didn't miss," added forward Ryan Pearson.

That's how you get a school-record 15 assists.

"Yeah, I think as you really get to know Aaron, you get to spend time with him, you watch him develop, it's amazing," Matta said of his freshman firestarter.

"And he's been so steady throughout the course of the year. And I'm excited for him to get 15 assists, because he's a goal-oriented guy. And I know before his time's over he's going to beat that record. And it's who he is. He's that competitive."

And that's bad news for everybody else.

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