March 21, 2011
Big plays highlight Craft's record night
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CLEVELAND - Aaron Craft had just passed mid-court when he was trapped near the sideline by two George Mason defenders.
With the mid-court line to his back and the sideline to his right, Craft - a freshman point guard - was out of options. Then he spotted a wide-open Jared Sullinger underneath the basket.
Leaning to his right to gain just a tad of breathing room, Craft rocketed a pass to Sullinger near the hoop. Placed perfectly, Sullinger grabbed the pass, scored, and completed the 3-point play after being fouled.
"I've never seen a pass like that," junior guard William Buford said. "He zipped that in there. I was on the bench like, 'Did he just make that? How did that get in there?' I didn't think it was going to get through."
It was only one assist of the record-breaking 15 the freshman point guard would record in the Buckeyes' 95-66 win over George Mason in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday evening in Quicken Loans Arena.
"I think as you really get to know Aaron, you get to spend time with him, you watch him develop, it's amazing," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "It's been so steady throughout the course of the year.
"And I'm excited for him to get 15 assists, because he's a goal-oriented guy. And I know before his time's over he's going to beat that record."
Maybe there's something about Ohio State point guards in March.
In Ohio State's last run to the Final Four in 2006-07, former Buckeye Mike Conley Jr. had perhaps the best run of six postseason games for a point guard in the history of the program.
On the way to leading the Buckeyes all the way to the championship game, Conley went from being an add-in to that year's recruiting class with former standout Greg Oden to an NBA lottery pick.
Craft isn't quite thinking that far ahead. He just saw how his miraculous pass to Sullinger would finish before the ball ever left his fingertips.
"He can catch the ball," Craft said of Sullinger, "so I just had to put it in an area where he could grab it. The guy guarding (Dave Lighty) was in between, so I took a chance and threw it to Sully and he as able to catch it and finish it for me."
The heroics didn't end there.
Late the second half, Craft turned what seemed to be a sure-fire turnover into another assist that drew fans to their feet.
Having lost the ball pushing it up floor just moments earlier, Craft dove onto the loose ball and kicked it out to a wide-open Diebler on the wing. Diebler did what he did best, burying the 3-pointer from the corner while also drawing the foul.
The senior guard knocked down the free throw to complete the 4-point play and extended Ohio State's lead to 87-49 with less than seven minutes to play. Again, a modest Craft was just glad Ohio State got the points.
"I was upset I lost the ball in the first place," Craft said. "So I happened to see Jon's guy come off and try to get it, and I happened to get it to him. And just like most of the assists today, I mean, they knocked down 3s for me and that's basically how it happened."
Matta has mentioned there was no way to tell how good Craft was going to be before he stepped on campus initially less than a year ago.
The head coach, however, probably didn't expect the freshman point guard to be an instrumental piece to Ohio State's latest attempt to crack the Final Four.
"It's who he is. He's that competitive," Matta said. "And obviously it means a great deal to our program."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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