Aaron Craft has been an impact player on the defensive end all season, but it was his stand-out offense on Saturday afternoon that made the difference against Gonzaga.
Behind 17 points and 10 assists from Craft, Ohio State outlasted Gonzaga, 73-66, at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
While Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas had 18 points each, Craft’s aggressiveness and confidence were catalysts for the Buckeye offense, which shot 48% from the field.
Gary Bell Jr. led Gonzaga with 18 points, but the Bulldogs went without a field goal for the final four minutes, until the game was nearly out of reach with 12 seconds remaining.
There was an anecdote floating around that Ohio State coach Thad Matta had begun calling Deshaun Thomas simply “Shaun Thomas,” because his lack of effort on the defensive end had rendered the “De” in his name too ironic.
Aaron Craft praised Thomas for his new-found effort on that end of the floor, and there were a few sequences against Gonzaga where his interior defense looked strong, but it is still a lot to be desired.
If he keeps the effort up and endures the jokes some will make about it, it can only help the Buckeye attack.
Gonzaga’s size inside helped them gain a +6 rebounding edge, so Ohio State will need more than the four rebounds they got today from Jared Sullinger when they find themselves matched up with the winner of Florida State and Cincinnati.
Bernard James for FSU and Yancy Gates for Cincinnati have the same ability to create problems on the block, if Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger are not assertive in the paint.
The Sweet 16 begins Thursday.