Craft Drives Buckeyes to Win Over Spartans
By John Porentas
You missed a chance to make a whole lot of money.
If you had offered to bet that the Deshaun Thomas could go 4-16 from the floor and the Buckeyes would still beat Michigan State you would have had more takers that you had money.
Then you would have had all the money, because that's exactly what happened in No. 18 OSU's gritty 68-60 win over No. 4 Michigan State at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Aaron Craft drives for two against MSU
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thomas' struggles didn't matter because Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft scored a career-high 21 points on 7-12 shooting from the floor and 7-8 shooting from the free throw line to give OSU (20-7, 10-5 Big Ten) just enough offense to get a key win against the highly regarded Spartans (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten).
It was a satisfying win for the Buckeyes who were just 1-7 against ranked opponents this season. It was also a win that didn't come easily.
The Buckeyes did not shoot the ball well in the first half (10-19 from he field, 1-11 from three) and trailed at the half 31-25. They were kept in the game by two unlikely candidates, Evan Ravenel who had seven points at the intermission and Sam Thompson who had six. Thomas had just two, and at that point, Craft had four.
MSU opened the second half by extending the lead to nine on a three pointer by Gary Harris. Craft answered with a layup, but Adreian Payne answered to put MSU back up by nine.
Two things then happened that turned the game.
Thomas canned a three-pointer to get himself out of his shooting funk, and Thad Matta called a time-out just 2:07 into the half. Matta was "animated" with his team from the moment they approached the bench. His focus was on defensive effort.
"I took the timeout because we open up, I look out and the guy guarding Harris has his back in the screen as he's catching and shooting a three. The next possession Payne shoots a wide open 12-foot shot. I just said 'Enough, this has got to change.'" said Matta.
"Fortunately it changed. It was more of a challenging them to do what we needed to do to get back in the game and win the game.
"They got it today."
Get it they did. The Buckeyes outscored MSU 24-5 over the next 7:46 to turn a nine point deficit into a 10 point lead. The game was far from over, but OSU had changed the entire complexion of the contest, and a lot of that changing got done by Aaron Craft. Craft scored six points in the run, all on layups as he drove to the hoop and finished again and again. He also dished out four assists during the run.
Aaron Craft drives for two more.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Spartans seemed to have no answer for Craft's drives in the second half. It didn't matter who was guarding him, he got to the rim and more often than not either finished or drew a foul.
"We saw some things during the first game (with MSU) this season we thought we could take advantage of," said Craft.
"We didn't do a great job of challenging their bigs and doing pick-and-rolls down the floor. When guys make outside shots, that opens up the lane and we were able to to capitalize on that tonight and make layups."
Craft scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half and Thomas also came alive to finish with 14. Despite OSU's new-found offense the Spartans stayed close and narrowed the OSU lead to just three at 63-60 with 2:15 remaining.
That's when Craft made the play of the game. Craft missed a layup that looked like it would be rebounded by MSU to give the Spartans a critical late-game possession, but the ball ended up on the floor with players from each team diving for it. Craft launched himself into the scrum like a guided missile seeking an enemy fighter plane and ended up sharing possession with MSU's Adreian Payne. The possession arrow favored OSU and returned the ball to the Buckeyes. Matta said after the game he was not surprised by the effort by Craft.
"When you're as astute as he is he wants to know everything and he processes it.
"He knew it was our ball. Before the ref said anything, he said 'That's our ball, I got it,' because he knew which way the possession arrow was pointing."
The Buckeyes protected their lead with clutch free throws down the stretch. For the game they made 19 of 23 from the line for an 82.6 percent conversion rate.
The Buckeyes' next outing will be on Thursday, February 28 when they travel to Evanston, Illinois, to take on Northwestern.
Attendance at the game was 18,809 and the game was televised nationally on CBS.