This week the Buckeye Blogger Network is taking you inside Ohio State’s 87-84 white knuckle home win over Purdue on Tuesday night. Our friends at The Buckeye Battle Cry, The Buckeye Blog, Buckeye House Call, Men of the Scarlet and Gray and The Silver Bullet will each bring you an in-depth look at one Buckeye and their contributions to Ohio State’s 39th consecutive home win, which was a lot closer than most of us expected. Here at Our Honor Defend, we’ll be focusing on—you guessed it—Aaron Craft, our favorite dreamboat point guard and the man that fans of other B1G teams love to hate (but secretly pine for).
In an overall sense, Tuesday night did not represent Craft’s best outing as a collegiate shooty hoops player. However, the Buckeye sophomore and Cousy Award candidate did make significant contributions to the win over the Boilermakers, despite getting into some (phantom) foul trouble. Craft finished with a decent stat line: 13 points, three boards and two assists, making all three of his field goal attempts (one triple) and six of his seven free throw attempts. From a shooting percentage standpoint alone, this was one of Craft’s better games of the season. He did turn the ball over twice and
committed was whistled for four fouls, and also was shut out in the steals department, which is a rarity. Our goal here is to step outside the numbers and break down his game in more detail.
First we’ll look at the problem area, which, incredibly, was his on-ball defense. Craft seemed surprised at the speed with which Purdue guards Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow attacked the rim. As we’ve watched Craft through his first season and a half, we have learned that he doesn’t lack for quickness. So what was the problem? Well, it could have been any number of things or a combination. As a sophomore, it’s possible he had a rare letdown in a game sandwiched between an emotional win at Wisconsin and an upcoming first-place battle with Michigan State. It may be he was expecting something completely different due to the way Thad Matta constructed his game plan, or that he was expecting help from areas where no help came. Certainly there were other defensive problems that contributed to Craft looking so bad at times, namely the slow and indecisive actions of those players defending the screener. I’d call that a factor, at least. Or, knowing our Academic All-District, rosy-cheeked wonder, maybe he was tired from studying (he had an exam scheduled for Wednesday).
Whatever the reason, it wasn’t all bad. Craft’s defense on inbound plays and off the ball in the half court was pretty good. And he did have some successful defensive possessions where he forced the guard to kick the ball out, pick up his dribble or back out. The one thing I’d have liked is for Craft to have forced Jackson to his weaker left side, but this again could have been better accomplished by effective teamwork by the man defending the screener. You also have to credit Purdue for spreading the floor well and establishing good motion in its half court offense. It was a good game plan and the Boilermakers executed it better than even they probably thought they could. I thought Craft played particularly well when reinserted late in the game, when Ohio State forced some tough shots. He also boxed out well on rebounds, and pulled down a few boards in between two much larger Purdue opponents, including Robbie Hummel.
Offensively, we got more than the usual point production from Craft. Most of that came in a three-minute span in the first half. Barlow had just blown past Craft and dunked over Jared Sullinger. Visibly upset with himself, Craft went on the offensive, hitting a jumper to put Ohio State back on top 26-25 just 6:57 before the break. After Sandi Marcius missed two free throws, Craft found Lenzelle Smith Jr. who knocked down a three-pointer, and then he hit a bomb of his own playing a two-man game with Sully on the very next possession. In the next minute, he grabbed a tough rebound in traffic, drove to the rim, drawing a foul on Terone Johnson, and knocked down both freebies to extend the OSU lead to nine, 34-25. Although the Boilermakers knotted the score at 40 at the half, Craft had made up for a few defensive lapses by pushing the team offensively through sheer determination of will. He led the Buckeyes with 10 first-half points, grabbed all three of his rebounds and both assists.
The second half was a bit tougher. Just eight seconds after the break, Craft was whistled for fouling Barlow on a dunk. I won’t argue the foul, but it was pretty soft and Barlow probably knew nothing about it. Two minutes later, he fouled Barlow again. Over the next four minutes, Craft was content to run the offense, pass, and let William Buford, DeShaun Thomas and Smith take the shots. He tried getting the ball into Sullinger but Purdue did a nice job of denying and doubling on the OSU big man. With 12:46 remaining he was called for a foul on Terone Johnson and Matta replaced him with Shannon Scott.
After a brief rest, Craft returned, only to quickly pick up another touch foul, again on Barlow. There was still 9:18 to play and Barlow’s free throws tied the game at 64. The foul trouble completely took Craft out of the game in the second half. When he was eventually reinserted late in a close game, however, he made some of his biggest contributions. Buford’s late game heroics gave Ohio State a little breathing room, but it was Craft who killed the game off. For some odd reason, Matta used Buford to inbound the ball after made Purdue baskets. Buford is Ohio State’s best free throw shooter and Matta essentially took him off the floor. Buford usually inbounded to Craft, who hit three of four from the stripe in the final minute to keep the Boilermakers at bay. He also used his speed to streak down the sideline and kill precious seconds, including the last few after Hummel’s long three made it a one-possession game with eight seconds to play. Craft accepted the inbound pass and outran the Boilers down the left sideline until time expired.
Though he’d be the first to tell you that it wasn’t his best game of the year, Ohio State could not have won the game without Craft’s contributions. Being the student that he is, Craft will learn from the game tapes and Tuesday’s contest will make him an even better player in the future.
Check out the rest of the Buckeye Blogger Network as we put the Purdue game under the BBN Hoops Microscope:
The Buckeye Battle Cry – BBN Hoops Microscope: Lenzelle Smith Jr. vs. Purdue
The Buckeye Blog – Buford Steps Up in Close Win Over Purdue
Buckeye House Call – BBN Hoops Microscope: Sully vs. Purdue
Men of the Scarlet and Gray – BBN Hoops Microscope: Coaching Staff vs. Purdue
The Silver Bullet – BBN Hoops Microscope: Deshaun Thomas vs. Purdue