Aaron Craft

Vee Sanford

Vee Sanford answers Aaron Craft as Dayton beats Ohio State (VIDEO)


Now that’s how you kick off the big dance!

Vee Sanford answered Aaron Craft’s tough, falling layup with a runner of his own and Craft’s potential game-winner bounced off the backboard and the front of the rim as No. 11 Dayton advanced past No. 6 Ohio State, 60-59.

Sanford, a senior point guard, finished with 10 points off the bench while Dyshawn Pierre, who hit three huge free throws with 25 seconds left, led the way with 12 points and eight boards. With the win the Flyers will advance to face the winner of No. 3 Syracuse and No. 14 Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon, and whoever they end up playing, Dayton will have a chance to beat. They’re tough, they defend, they’re balanced offensively and they have one of the nation’s best young coaches in Archie Miller.

Speaking of Miller, it will be interesting to see what happens with him this offseason. He comes from a great coaching background — his older brother is Arizona head coach Sean Miller, he worked under Thad Matta for a couple of years — and he’s done an awesome job with the Flyers this season. They weren’t expected to be contending for a tournament berth this season, yet here they are, an at-large bid that knocked off in-state foe Ohio State and is now on the way to the Round of 32.

On the Ohio State side of things, this is the end of Craft’s career as a Buckeye, and he will be missed. Craft has spent the majority of his career being one of the most polarizing players in the country, but at the end of the day, he’s a terrific student and a terrific kid that played the game as hard as anyone in the country played. I guess I get the pushback against a media darling, especially a kid whose biggest strengths as an athlete are not as readily apparent as throwing down high-flying dunks or scoring bushels of buckets.

He was a leader, a facilitator, the nation’s best on-ball defender, a role model. He was an easy guy to root for, and it’s a shame that the way that his career had to end was a loss to Michigan, a loss to an in-state rival, getting beaten off the dribble by Vee Sanford and a missed shot of his own at the other end.

He’ll be missed.

Big Ten Tournament: Flailing Buckeyes overcome double-digit deficit, shock Nebraska

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Ohio State looked beaten. With roughly thirteen minutes remaining the second half, the Buckeyes were losing by eighteen points and appeared as if they would rather be anywhere other than Indianapolis. The squad was teetering: too proud to lay down and allow Nebraska, one of the nation’s hottest teams, to finish the steamroll, but uncertain if it was worth fighting back. OSU slowly began to chip away, however, and the lead, decreasing minute by minute, evaporated until OSU took the lead with sixty seconds remaining. Ohio State’s rebirth was complete — the Buckeyes escaped the quarterfinals, defeating the Cornhuskers 71-67.

Making their move midway through the second half, the Ohio State win was a combination of traditionally stout Buckeye defense and a complete breakdown of Nebraska’s offense. Tim Miles’ team scored .99 points per possession in the first half, but that rating dropped to .92 in the final twenty minutes; rather than continue attacking their OSU defenders and getting to the basket, NU started settling for long-range attempts (of which they converted only 30 percent), a puzzling strategy since it’s been proven that Nebraska’s outside shooting isn’t robust (32.9 percent in Big Ten play). The moment which encapsulated NU’s offensive timidity came after Walter Pitchford rose for an ally-oop but missed the attempted reverse dunk — Nebraska converted only two shots from the field following the failed dunk.

LaQuinton Ross was the hero of the stat sheet, scoring 26 points on a variety of mid-range jumpers, but the Buckeye who deserves credit for sparking the comeback, and one who clearly enjoys playing Nebraska, is Amedeo Della Valle. The lanky wing, sporting a hairdo that rivals Bradley Cooper’s ‘American Hustle’ character, had previously scored a season-high 15 versus NU, and followed that effort with twelve points today. The sophomore barely played last season, but after a successful summer leading Italy to the U20 European Championship (earning an MVP nod for his efforts), it is evident the wing’s frenetic offense and fearlessness when in the open court could earn him more minutes.

Don’t mess with Aaron Craft’s memory

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Matta talks with guard Craft in the second half against the Wichita State Shockers during their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles

Though Aaron Craft is a nutrition major with plans to pursue a medical career once he leaves Columbus, the Ohio State senior guard should have perhaps been a math major. Today, March 14, is Pi Day, a day to celebrate William Jones (who invented the universally used ratio) and math in general, and Craft’s method of celebration is to unveil his outstanding memory and recite a snippet of Pi.

I love Craft’s cockiness as he is being filmed. You can tell Craft likely had to remember this number for some long-ago middle school test, and is so confident with his memory, saying, “That is extremely accurate. I don’t even think you have to check that.” Perhaps this attention to detail helped in Craft’s transformation as one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders, using his mnemonic skills to catalog each opponents’ offensive tendencies and how to most effectively derail their scoring.

Turnovers help Ohio State beat No. 22 Michigan State in regular season finale

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After winning three straight games Ohio State dropped road games at Penn State and Indiana, falling out of the national polls and finding themselves in danger of not receiving a first-round bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament as a result. The Buckeyes’ game against No. 22 Michigan State was also Senior Day for a highly successful class, but the most important thing for Thad Matta’s team to do was get back on track ahead of postseason play.

Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) was able to do that thanks in large part to their effort on the defensive end, holding Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) scoreless over the final 4:30 to win 69-67 in the regular season finale for both.

The Buckeyes are by no means an explosive offensive team; that much has been known all season long. And the absence of a consistent shot-maker has meant that Ohio State has needed to adjust, something they’ve struggled with at times in conference play. One way in which to make up for that deficiency is to attack the paint and Ohio State was able to do that Sunday, outscoring the Spartans 34-20 in that statistical category.

LaQuinton Ross, a gifted player who’s struggled to put it all together on a consistent basis, scored a team-high 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He rarely settled for tough shots against Michigan State, and it will be interesting to see if he can build on this performance as Ohio State enters postseason play. And if this group is to make any kind of noise in the NCAA tournament that has to be the case.

Ross’ individual performance is to be commended, but the defense down the stretch made the difference. In the final 4:30 Michigan State turned the ball over three times and missed four shots, with Ohio State keeping the Spartans from establishing any rhythm offensively. And for the game the Buckeyes would force 16 turnovers, converting those mistakes into 21 valuable points (plus-9 in points off turnovers). Ohio State may not have prolific scorers but they do have quality defenders, led by a senior in Craft (now the Big Ten’s all-time steals leader) who managed to corral a critical rebound with 29 seconds remaining.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Ohio State in conference play, as evidenced by their ten league losses. But this is still a group that has experience and the ability to defend. Do that while finding quality looks on the other end, and Ohio State can be successful as the games get even bigger this month.

Assigned Reading: Aaron Craft is big man on campus at Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Matta talks with guard Craft in the second half against the Wichita State Shockers during their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles
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As the regular season winds down this weekend and Senior Day commences at a number of schools across the country, one of the biggest celebrations will surely be for Ohio State senior point guard Aaron Craft.

Craft has certainly done a lot for the Buckeyes on the floor, as he shares the Big Ten record in steals and is Ohio State’s all-time leader in assists, but it’s the senior’s ability to make a difference off-the-court that makes him unique.

In a fantastic read from Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch, Craft’s career at Ohio State is showcased and the story includes a lot of interesting and enlightening anecdotes about one of the good guys in college basketball.

Baptist gets quotes from a lot of Ohio State basketball greats about Craft, including Clark Kellogg, John Havlicek and Mel Nowell and also notes how Craft has given his time to help others while maintaining a 3.93 GPA:

Weyant’s was the third Make-A-Wish request for Craft this season. Last fall, he videotaped a speech for an Ohio high-school leadership conference because a lab class prevented him from attending. He had missed a lab once and gotten a B-plus in the course and wasn’t going to risk that again. Craft has a 3.93 cumulative grade-point average in a pre-med curriculum.

“We can’t physically do all the things that people request, so we try to manage those by what we deem the most important, the most beneficial,” said Dave Egelhoff, who screens requests for Craft’s time as the Buckeyes’ director of basketball operations. “It’s tough on him because he knows he can make a difference, but it’s just physically impossible to do them all.”

There are a lot of other great quotes and tidbits on Craft in Baptist’s feature — including a great story from Thad Matta on the duo speaking to a group of Ohio State freshman.

You can read the full story here.

Shooting issues plague No. 22 Ohio State in loss at Penn State

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Since the start of Big Ten play one of the questions concerning No. 22 Ohio State was who would provide the perimeter shooting needed to factor into the Big Ten race. With the lack of a quality scoring threat in the post thanks to Deshaun Thomas’ early departure, those shot-makers became even more important for Thad Matta’s team.

Entering Thursday’s game at Penn State the Buckeyes ranked seventh in the Big Ten in three-point shooting, making just 32.8% of its attempts in conference play. Ohio State shot even worse from beyond the arc in Happy Valley, making five of their 17 attempts, and this combined with an off night from the foul line factored into the 65-63 defeat.

Penn State’s D.J. Newbill, who scored 25 points and hit the game-winning basket in the first meeting, scored 23 points and Tim Frazier added 16 for the Nittany Lions. If anything the area in which Penn State hurt Ohio State was in second-chance points, as they outscored the Buckeyes 15-5.

But even with the productivity of Penn State’s experienced guards and the second-chance points, the problem for Ohio State was their shooting. In addition to the three-point shooting the Buckeyes made 18 of their 27 free throws, with players other than LaQuinton Ross (11-for-13) combining to shoot 7-for-14. Ross (19 points) and Aaron Craft (ten points) were the lone players to score in double figures, but Craft also had to navigate second-half foul trouble while finishing the game with five turnovers.

Penn State was able to do a good job of switching defensive looks, mixing in some zone to go along with their man-to-man, and it did impact the Buckeyes’ effectiveness. A regular season finale against Michigan State represents an opportunity for a quality win before the Big Ten tournament, and a win there would benefit the Buckeyes from a seeding standpoint.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. (2-for-7 FG) and Sam Thompson (3-for-10 FG, no free throw attempts) were both quiet against Penn State, and even with his 19 points Ross shot 4-for-12 from the field. Ohio State clearly has the talent needed to win games, but in order to take that next step this group has to become more consistent offensively.