Craft Ravages MSU Again, Buckeyes Edge Spartans to Reach Big Ten Tournament Final
By John Porentas
CHICAGO - Aaron Craft is not likely to be elected the mayor of East Lansing, Michigan, anytime in the near future.
On February 24 Craft went for a career-high 21 points against Michigan State to lead his team to a 68-61 win over MSU at Value City Arena. He did it by driving to the hoop for layups over and again after coming off ball screens that the the Spartans simply couldn't seem to solve.
You would have thought MSU would have had a plan to prevent Craft from inflicting that much damage again when the two teams met in the semi-finals of the Big Ten tournament, and for a half, it looked like they did.
Craft had just two points when the first half ended, and MSU held a 29-28 lead. Then came the second half, and Craft once again absolutely obliterated the Spartans. He put up 18 points in the second half, and when he wasn't scoring, he was helping his teammates score. In all, Craft either scored or assisted on 27 of OSU's 33 points in the second half.
"We definitely knew they were going to change the way they guarded the ball screens in general with the number of layups we were able to get in that second game," said Craft.
"In the first half you definitely kind of saw them plugging more, getting in the gaps more, and things like that. In the second half, we just tried to do a better job of spacing and getting them to move side to side and getting them out of those gaps, and we were able to get inside them."
For the game, Craft also totaled 9 assists and four steals Numbers like that can make you a hated man in a place with as much basketball tradition as East Lansing. It can also leave the people playing against Craft wondering how he does it.
"It just seems like he is so much more aggressive looking for his shot now, " said MSU guard Keith Appling. "You always have to be aware of him as a scorer now, and that makes it harder to guard the other guys on the floor for them."
Crafts was heroic. The Buckeyes needed him to be. As has become the norm in the OSU vs. MSU series, the overall game was a war.
The game ebbed and flowed with each team making runs and each team holding the lead at various times. There were seven lead changes and five ties. MSU's largest lead was six points at 14:03 of the first half, OSU led by eight at 7:22 of the second half.
There wasn't much in the way of give in either team, but as they came down to the wire, OSU held the lead but MSU seemed to have the momentum. The Buckeyes led by eight with 4:51 remaining to play, but the Spartans went on a 7-1 run to cut OSU lead to just a single point at 57-56 with 1:54 remaining in the game.
The game was very much hanging in the balance when Craft made the first of a one-and-one to put OSU up one. He missed the second free throw, but the Buckeyes were awarded possession of the basketball because Craft had been fouled on an intentional foul. Deshaun Thomas then rolled in a short jumper to put OSU up by for with just 22 seconds left on the clock. MSU's Keith Appling's layup attempt was then blocked by Sam Thompson. Thomas closed out the scoring with another free throw with just eight seconds remaining.
The Buckeyes will now meet No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the tournament finale. The Badgers knocked off the number one seed, regular-season champions Indiana, by a score of 68-56. The Badgers had four players score 11 or more points in dispatching the Hoosiers. The also shot 51 percent against the Indiana defense and outrebounded Indiana 35-30.
The championship game begins at 2:30 CT and will be televised by CBS.