Ohio State junior point guard Aaron Craft has established a bit of a pattern in the NCAA tournament. As the Buckeyes faced down Iowa State in the Round of 32, it was Craft who pulled up with the game on the line and coolly buried the game-winning three point shot. Against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, Craft saw LaQuinton Ross open on the wing and fed the hot hand – it was another dramatic three-point splashdown to save the Buckeyes’ title hopes.
Not this time. Not against Wichita State, the No. 9 seed stocked with freshmen and transfers. The Shockers pulled out to a sizeable lead, as high as 20 points in the second half, which gave the Buckeyes a chance to rev up their eye-popping comeback mojo machine, and it looked like Craft and Company would do it again.
Craft nailed a trey with :06 left on the game clock to get the score to 70-66, and when WSU’s Tekele Cotton missed both free throws on the other end of the floor, Craft had another shot at closing the final gap. This time, however, the hole was too deep. The Buckeyes needed four points to play on, and Craft’s three – which missed – wouldn’t have changed the outcome even if another prayer had fallen in.
In the end, Craft’s past caught up with him. He hit only two shots – both of them from behind the arc – throughout the game, and had as many turnovers to his credit as assists. That was too much wrong to be put right before the clock ran out. Sometimes – most of the time, in fact – it’s better to be consistently good than consistently lucky.
Craft’s teammates were a mixed bag in this one, too. DeShaun Thomas, a CBT preseason All-America choice, went for 23 points on the interior, and sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross continued a string of solid postseason performances by knocking in 19 from all areas of the floor. In the end, two solid performances simply weren’t enough to get the Buckeyes back to the Final Four.
Thad Matta may have yet another shot at the brass ring next season. Thomas, despite his accolades, is rated by DraftExpress as the 62nd-best NBA prospect in the nation, and Craft is well behind him, ranked 88th. With Ross developing into a dangerous player, and Thomas and Craft back, Matta will have a perfect three-man core to build his next title contender around. Perhaps even one that doesn’t have to rely on the buzzer-beater to advance into late March.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.