Craft Motivated

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Last updated: 11/30/2012 3:01 AM

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Men's basketball
Craft Motivated by Disappointing Performance at Duke
By Brandon Castel

DURHAM, N.C. — Aaron Craft doesn’t take losing well.

Not in practice. Not in backyard games against his brother or sister. Not in school, and certainly not in big games like the one Ohio State played Wednesday night at a thunderous Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University.
 
Especially not when he is the one who came up short when the biggest moments of the game called for him to make the plays his coach was counting on him to make.

“You have to be disappointed, especially with the way I played in that situation,” Craft said outside the OSU locker room.

“I’m one of the guys this team has to look up to, and I don’t think I lived up to that tonight.”

Craft is the kind of kid who gives everything he’s got every time he steps on to the court, and then some. So there was nothing more head coach Thad Matta could have asked for out of his junior point guard, who suddenly went from defensive stopper to offensive playmaker when the Buckeyes desperately needed a basket late in the second half of their 73-68 loss to Duke.

“Those were the ones we knew we were going to have to make,” Ohio State’s 9th year head coach said afterward.

“I’ll be honest, Aaron had some great looks at the basket and they just didn’t go for him. He was pressured there on the one turnover that was kind of costly.”

It was a very uncharacteristic game for Craft, who finished 3-of-15 from the floor with just one assist and three turnovers in 34 minutes. He picked up a questionable second foul on the offensive end of the floor in the first half and had to watch for the final five minutes while a group of young guys held off the Blue Devils before halftime.

“You can’t be upset with them, it was their first time in a situation like this,” said Craft, the son of a high school football coach and U.S. History teacher. 

“We got in some foul trouble and they did a great job in the first half holding it down for us. That’s all you can really ask for.”

More than you can really ask for, if you’re the Buckeyes. When Craft went to the bench with his second foul, he was joining preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas, who sat for the final 10 minutes of the first half with his own foul trouble.

The Buckeyes still led by eight at the break, leaving Duke fans to blame their rugged schedule for the slow start against Ohio State, a team that demolished the Devils by 22 points last year in Columbus.

“I guarantee they thought about last year,” Craft said, his body leaning up against the wall outside Ohio State’s locker room. 

“With the way we were able to play and win by the margin we did … I think about games we lost every day. Every game I’ve lost in college, those are in the back of your mind.”

And this one will go up there with them, right in the front. Right next to last year’s loss to Kansas in the Final Four, and probably the Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky from Craft’s freshman year. Next to all of them, even the ones he lost in middle school.

They’re all still up there. He doesn’t forget. He forges on. He uses these moments to stoke his inner fire, to push him to be more than what appears capable of in the moment. Remember, this is the Big Ten’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but suddenly Craft is being called upon to close out games on the offensive end of the court.

Even he admits the moment got to him.

“I was pressing a little bit and started missing some shots,” Craft said.

“I got some wide open shots that I was missing too. They just stopped guarding me towards the end; going under ball screens and things. I just couldn’t knock down shots, sometimes that happens.”

This was really the first time in his career Craft was called upon to be “that guy” in the crunch time, especially in a game of this magnitude. That was always a job for Jared Sullinger, or William Buford, or Deshaun Thomas. But Sullinger and Buford are gone, which means teams are going to do everything they can to keep Thomas from being the guy who beats them down the stretch.

“Especially in the second half, they weren't leaving Deshaun," Matta said, when asked of his decision to put the ball in Craft’s hands rather than his prolific forward.

Matta knows he has to do a better job of getting Thomas some good looks late in the game. He also realized he may need to play sophomore LaQuinton Ross more than he expected, simply to give the Buckeyes another offensive threat on the court.

Those are things this team could not have learned without playing a tough game like the one in Durham on Wednesday. That doesn’t make the loss any easier, not for someone like Aaron Craft, but he knows by now that championships aren’t won or lost in November.

“Anytime you lose, you’re going to be frustrated and go over every play,” Craft said.

“I didn’t play the greatest. We have another game Saturday. We have to find a way to get better and come back from this. We have to learn from this and come back tomorrow.”

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