OSU vs. Flordia Game Story

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Last updated: 11/16/2011 12:53 PM

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Men's Basketball
Craft, Buford Steer Buckeyes to Big Win over No. 8 Florida
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Aaron Craft’s numbers were not spectacular Tuesday night, but his play certainly was in Ohio State’s 81-74 victory over No. 7-ranked Florida (1-1).

Aaron Craft
Photo by Jim Davidson
Aaron Craft

The fearless sophomore out of Findlay posted 13 points, seven assists and three steals as the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes (2-0) rallied from an early eight-point deficit to knock off the Gators in an early non-conference top-10 battle that could set the tone for Ohio State’s season.

“This basketball team didn’t fold,” said fellow sophomore Jared Sullinger, who was concerned about his team’s mental toughness after losing three key seniors from last season.

“We got off to a rough start, but as the game went on we got closer as a team and finally said ‘enough is enough.’  I thought we did a lot of good things tonight, but we still have a lot to work on.”

The young Buckeyes—who start four sophomores and one senior—gave up a number of open looks from behind the arc in the first half. They were also out-rebounded 38-29 by the Gators, who got 12 boards from their powerhouse center Patric Young, but the Gators had no answer for Craft, who controlled the game at both ends of the floor.

“I thought he dominated this game from start to finish,” Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan said afterward.

“He physically beat up our guards and manhandled our guards. I am not saying that he was fouling; everything was in the confines of the game. I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves around the country.”

Jared Sullinger
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sullinger

For the second-straight year, Craft did an excellent job of breaking Florida’s press, which Donovan said they adjusted from last time in order to keep Sullinger from dominating them in the paint.

It worked, sort of. Sullinger still finished with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes. He knocked down a 15-foot fade-away jumper on the baseline, but did most of his work at the charity stripe.

“We let Sullinger get to the line too much but we did a good job on him as a team,” Donovan said after Sullinger went 8-for-8 at the line.

“Shots weren’t going in for us as a team. We were trying to fight to get back in, but couldn’t hit enough shots and make enough stops to win.”

The Gators stunned the Buckeyes with four threes in the first six minutes of the game—including three by forward Erik Murphy. They built up a 14-6 lead at the 14:19 mark of the first half, but the Buckeyes went on a 7-0 run to close the gap.

It was keyed by who else but Craft, who picked Mike Rosario and drove to the basket for layup to make it a one-point game.

“I thought Aaron was terrific tonight,” said Matta, who left him on the floor for all but three minutes.

“We told him going in if they were going to force his hand with the pressure he was going to have to avert the mission and make plays. I thought he did a very good job at that, he kept the ball and made great reads to find his teammates.”

Particularly senior William Buford, who found the hot hand with 21 points, six rebounds and three assists against Florida.

William Buford
Photo by Jim Davidson
William Buford

“I thought William was good,” Matta said.

“He took a couple ill-advised shots we talked about in timeouts. I thought he showed patience and hit some key shots for us. The three was a big one tonight. He’s the one guy that’s been through these wars numerous times so we need him to do that.”

Buford scored 12 of his 21 points in the second half, but it was Ohio State’s defense that got them back in the game. The Buckeyes forced the Gators into 16 turnovers, including nine in the first half as they rallied to take a 35-32 lead into the locker rooms at Value City Arena.

“I thought that really got them back into the game. Our backcourt turned it over way too much,” Donovan said.

“Playing on the road versus a good offensive team, you can’t do that. The turnovers on the road certainly hurt you.”

The Buckeyes came out hot in the second half with a 14-6 run to push their lead to 12 points, at 50-38 with 13:38 to play in the game. Junior Evan Ravenel, a transfer from Boston College, helped them maintain that lead while Sullinger was on the bench with three fouls.

Buford hit a big three to push the OSU lead to 16 points, at 62-45 with 7:55 to play in the game, but the Gators didn’t quit. Freshman Bradley Beal—the reigning high school Gatorade Player of the Year—scored five quick points and Craft missed a pair of free throws as Florida cut the lead to nine, at 64-55 with six minutes to play.

It was a five-point game in the final seconds after Kenny Boynton hit back-to-back threes, but Craft and Deshaun Thomas connected on all four of their free throws in the final 23 seconds to ice the victory for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes were 27-of-34 at the free throw line in this game, including in impressive 19-of-24 in the second half. They shot 47.2 percent from the field and turned the ball over seven times in what should serve as a signature win in the early season.

“It’s a stepping stone,” Craft said afterward.

“If you look at the stats sheet, we were outrebounded and turned the ball over quite a few times, so we have plenty to work on. Still, you can see that we have the pieces to be a great team.”

Box Score
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