Holy Craft: Clutch Three Sends Ohio State Back to Sweet Sixteen
By Brandon Castel
DAYTON, Ohio — Aaron Craft didn’t have to take the last shot.
Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross were both ready and willing.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State’s most naturally-gifted scorers, the two guys most people would want shooting a game-winner in that situation, had already combined for 39 points against Iowa State.
It didn’t matter.
Craft had just missed a 15-foot jump shot from the top of the arc 28 seconds earlier that would have given Ohio State a two-point lead against the upset-minded Cyclones.
It didn’t matter.
And it didn’t matter that Craft had misfired on two front-end chances at the free throw line during a 13-0 run by Iowa State that erased the Buckeyes’ 13-point lead in just over two minutes.
None of that mattered in the slightest when Craft went up for the game-winning three as time was about expire on a 75-75 game that went back and forth for 39 minutes and 58 seconds.
“That’s who he is,” OSU Head Coach Thad Matta said of his junior point guard.
“The great thing about him is, a lot of kids if that happened to them they quit defending. He plays himself through it.”
Before hitting the three that sent Ohio State back to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth-straight year, Craft slid over on defense and drew a charge on Iowa State senior Will Clyburn.
The Buckeyes were down 75-74 when Craft got his body in front of Clyburn, who bowled over the OSU point guard on a play that could have gone for an and-1.
Iowa State could have been up four, 78-74, if the call had been ruled a block (Clyburn still would have had to the free throw), but great defensive players are going to get the benefit of the doubt in split-second decisions.
Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith celebrate The Shot.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Those are the type of plays that we've had to make in this run,” Matta said.
“We told our guys going into this game, this is a Big Ten basketball game. It's going to come down to the last couple of minutes. We're going to have to be sound. We're going to have to do the things, and, sure enough, we were right.”
The 2-seed Buckeyes (28-7) did just enough in the first half to hold a two-point lead over 10-seed Iowa State (23-12) at the break. They were outrebounded 24-13 in the first half, including 8-2 on the offensive end, but Ohio State forced the Cyclones into nine first-half turnovers.
“They were just outhustling us,” OSU sophomore Sam Thompson said.
“They were getting all the tough rebounds, all the 50/50 balls and coach Matta just challenged us to play with more toughness in the second half.”
The Buckeyes did just that, building a 13-point lead on the backs of Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross. After scoring 24 points during Ohio State’s blowout of 15-seed Iona on Friday night, Thomas went for 22 and five in the game Sunday.
He scored 13 points in the first half and nine in the second, but it was Ross who really gave the Buckeyes a boost with 10-straight points off the bench during their early second-half surge.
“I think coming off the bench I have an advantage because I get to watch the pace of the game, and I get to see what those guys are doing, switches on pick and rolls and all that,” the sophomore said.
“I was able to come in the game and set a few screens for Aaron and get open. I was able to knock down a couple of shots.”
Ross finished with 17 in the game, including that run of 10-straight points for the Buckeyes during their 17-5 run from the 11:49 mark to the 6:04 mark of the second half.
His final three gave OSU a 65-53 lead with 8:20 to play. Point guard Shannon Scott would push the lead to 69-56 with a layup at the 6:04 mark, but Iowa State simply would not go away.
“We talked about it in a meeting last night as a staff. If we can get this thing to about 12 in the second half, they’re going to make a run,” Matta said.
“Hopefully 12 is enough to stick. Some of the shots they hit were incredibly shots. (Korie) Lucious was not a prolific three-pointer shooter coming in and he nails five, but that’s their system.”
Lucious, a transfer from Michigan State, scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second, and Iowa State ripped off a 13-0 run to tie the game at 69-all on a three-point play by the point guard with 3:53 to play.
Senior Tyrus McGee hit a three to give Iowa State it’s first lead of the second half, as the Cyclones made 12 threes in the game and shot 55 percent from long-range in the second half.
Craft could have put an end to Iowa State’s run at the 4:40 mark, with the Buckeyes still leading 69-63, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. He would miss another one at the 4:07 mark, allowing the Cyclones to keep the momentum.
Ohio State trailed by one at the 1:15 mark when Craft split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 75-all. If he hit them both, the Buckeyes may not have needed any heroics.
Instead, Craft’s drew the charge on Clyburn and Thomas tipped away a pass to Clyburn that might have led to an easy layup for the Cyclones. Thompson grabbed the ball off the tip by Thomas, setting up a game-winning chance for the Buckeyes.
The play was supposed to go to Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, but Craft waved him off and buried a three over Iowa State center Georges Niang with less than a second on the clock.
“I don’t want to make too much of the wave off. He was running the play and when he saw the guy switch it, he was like, ‘I got it,’” Matta clarified after the game.
“It wasn’t a ‘wave off’ like, ‘I’m not going to pass it to you.’ He made the right read because DT was going to have to catch it with his back to the bucket.”
The Buckeyes had seen Niang and Lucious switch that screen all game.
“He had a big guy we knew was a little slow of foot, and I thought he set it up,” Matta added.
“It was a late challenge shot and he got a clean look. I loved the shot.”
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