Thanks to Aaron Craft and a set of cojones that could only be characterized as enormous and made of brass, Ohio State is headed back to the Sweet 16 and looks like they are in position to make it to the Final Four yet again. Crazy how these things work out. You know, veteran leadership rising to the occasion in a high pressure situation. Who woulda thunk it?
Oh, that’s right… I did.
Before the tournament got underway, I said that Ohio State could and would make another run to the Final Four thanks to the leadership of their top two players, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Because both are upperclassmen and have experienced what it takes to win in the tournament, I said the Buckeyes would have a distinct advantage over the rest of the field. I look like a genius.
Deshaun Thomas has done what Deshaun Thomas does for the most part. He has been the leading scorer for the Buckeyes so far and has been doing it from the inside and the outside with a plethora of spin moves, up fakes, and silky smooth jumpers. Craft, on the other hand, has been his typical tenacious self on the defensive end of the court, reeking havoc on the opposition’s point guards and throwing offenses out of whack. In addition to that, he has done a phenomenal job facilitating the Buckeye offense and picking his spots to either take the ball to the hole (something he is remarkably efficient at) or pulling up for a mid-range jumper.
But, what happened in the final moments of Sunday’s nail biter will go down in Buckeye lore and only serve to increase the legend that is Aaron Craft.
Having squandered a 13 point lead in a matter of minutes thanks to some timely shooting and play making by the Cyclones, the Buckeyes had their backs against the wall. All of the momentum had turned in Iowa State’s favor and while the crowd was predominantly pro-Buckeyes thanks to Dayton’s vicinity to Columbus, the remainder of the crowd that was neutral has shifted into underdog mode. It’s no surprise. That’s what happens in the NCAA Tournament. An underdog sticks around or makes a comeback and the tide changes in their favor.
Fortunately, neither the Buckeyes nor Craft would be negatively affected.
Aaron Craft helped halt the Iowa State rally by taking a charge with just a little over a minute to go. While the replay showed that he may have been within the restricted area, in real-time it was too close to tell and the refs ruled in his favor. It negated a made basket and potential 3-point play and gave the Buckeyes the ball back. Mere moments later we all saw how huge that play would be.
After getting yet another lucky break on an out-of-bounds call, the Buckeyes inbounded the ball with just enough time to play for a final shot. Craft received the inbound pass and looked to get the ball to Thomas coming off of a screen. When that failed, he tried to drive and kick it out only Iowa State collapsed on and prevented any real penetration from occurring. Left without any other option, Craft pulled the ball back out, broke his man down with a dribble, stepped up to the right of the top of the key a raised up for the game winning three.
It was a thing of beauty.
I lost my mind. The Yankee Loving Wife sat in amazement, unable to comprehend what she had just seen. And poor Iowa State… Even though I’m a blatant Buckeye homer, I couldn’t help but feel terrible for them. They played a great game and put together one hell of a run to put themselves into a situation to possibly win it at the end. For a moment, even I thought Ohio State was done for, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, the Buckeyes live on to play another day. They also have what might be one of the easiest remaining paths we have ever seen in this tournament. The #1, #3, #4, and #5 seeds are all gone. The Buckeyes will have to contend with the #6 seeded Arizona Wildcats, a tough match-up against a coach in Sean Miller that knows Thad Matta very well, and then the winner of the match-up between #9 Wichita State and #13 La Salle. There is no reason why they should emerge as the West region champs and be in Atlanta for the Final Four.
If not, this might end up being one of the most disappointing endings to an NCAA Tournament in the history of Ohio State basketball. It’s theirs for the taking if they want it bad enough. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. This team looks primed to do something special.