Craft Slams the Door on Burke, Michigan
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Aaron Craft credited his teammates for their defensive help on Trey Burke Saturday, but all of them were busy praising him.
Aaron "Cheese" Craft plays a little defense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State’s sophomore point guard locked down the Big Ten Freshman of the Year to the tune of five points on 1-11 shooting. Burke also had a career-high eight turnovers in what was easily the worst game of his freshman season at Michigan.
“Tremendous. That was crazy,” OSU junior Evan Ravenel said after watching his point guard stifle one of the better offensive players in the conference.
“Trey Burke is a scorer. He’s one of the best young point guards in this league and he has a bright future, but Aaron played great defense on him today.”
The Buckeyes played great defense as a team Saturday in their 77-55 win over the No. 2-seed Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal. They held a dangerous three-point shooting team to just 4-of-25 behind the arc and forced Michigan into 18 turnovers as they advanced to the championship game Sunday against No. 1-seed Michigan State.
“That’s what we needed to do to be successful tonight. Fortunately, we were all tuned in,” said Craft, who finished with six points, four assists and three steals in 31 minutes.
“We didn’t get a lot of steals, but there were a lot of team turnovers that we got tonight and everyone was feeding off one another. That’s when we’re playing our best basketball, just getting out in transition and getting easy baskets.”
Ravenel called it the best defense Ohio State has played all season, and it was unquestionably the best defense anyone has played on Burke. The last time Michigan’s star point guard was held to single-digit scoring was Jan. 24 at Purdue.
He was 3-for-10 shooting in that game with six points, but before that, one would have to go all the way back to the month of November to find a game in which Burke failed to reach double-digits.
“I want to put it on experience in this one, playing in the Big Ten Tournament, playing two days in a row. I don’t think he’s done that in college, probably not since AAU,” Ravenel said.
“I think that had a factor and then ‘Cheese’ being ready to play. The experience was the biggest factor.”
It probably didn’t help that Burke played 45 minutes in Michigan’s overtime win against Minnesota Friday, but John Beilein and his players were not buying that theory after the game.
“I think you gotta give Craft some credit there, just his on-the-ball defense was pretty good today,” Michigan senior Zack Novak said.
“And I thought that their bigs did a good job hedging. And they just never really let him get comfortable.”
Craft also praised his forwards for the help they gave him on hedging ball screens against Burke, and admitted that the Columbus Northland product is at the center of everything the Wolverines were trying to do offensively.
“They definitely have other guys who can do things, but Trey is one of the best guys at getting in the paint and being unselfish when he needs to be,” he said.
“That’s when they thrive, when they get wide open threes and wide open shots. Our bigs did a great job hedging ball screens today.”
According to teammate Deshaun Thomas, Craft always watches film of opposing point guards, but never more so than Burke, who scored two big baskets against the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year in the final 1:17 of Ohio State’s 56-51 loss in Ann Arbor.
“Down there in Ann Arbor, he put on a show and Craft didn’t like that,” Thomas said.
“Craft took it personally. You could see it in his face. He’s a guy who is always on to the next one, but he wanted to take the challenge again.”
Craft naturally denied taking it personally that Burke scored a layup against him in Ann Arbor and then hit a clutch jump shot to seal the victory for Michigan with 11 seconds left in the game. He is not the kind of player who is ever going to make it about him, ever, but even Jared Sullinger, who played with both Craft and Burke in AAU and high school, admitted that Craft took exception to the way Burke scored on him in that game.
“He did,” Sullinger said, “for sure.”
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