Dual Point Payoff: Craft and Scott Lead The Way, Stun Indiana


craftiuThroughout this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes have had their trials and tribulations on the offensive end of the floor. At times, playing both junior point guard Aaron Craft and sophomore point guard Shannon Scott simultaneously — while ideal on the defensive end — has damaged Ohio State’s halfcourt offensive attack due to a lack of outside shooting from those two.

Tuesday night, on the biggest of Big Ten stages and most hostile of environments, the Buckeyes snagged the signature road win that had narrowly escaped them in both Ann Arbor and East Lansing, pulling away late from the No. 2-ranked Indiana Hoosiers in a 67-58 victory. Craft finished with 15 points and four assists; Scott added eight points and three assists of his own. The two split the team’s eight steals between them, and those led to 16 points off turnovers which gave Ohio State the lift it needed from its supporting cast.

The best part of this one: Their contributions were far from the only key rise-to-the-occasion performances. While Deshaun Thomas’s 18 points led the team (thought he was just 6-of-17 shooting), Sam Thompson added nine first half points and two blocks while Evan Ravenel delivered at both ends, scoring eight points, nabbing six boards, and taking two key charges. I had mentioned the need for two players to rise to the occasion and deliver out of character performances, and the Buckeyes got that and then some. Much like his surprise showing in the must win Michigan State game last year in East Lansing, Ravenel was incredibly clutch, finding himself in the right place for taking the charges by moving his feet and putting in three offensive putbacks by running the floor.

Imposing their will to perfection, the Buckeyes were incredibly active on the defensive end, and it fueled their offensive attack. All season long, I’ve been pleading, begging, screaming for the Buckeyes to defend like this to get out and score a large chunk of their points in transition. Last night, they did just that, outscoring Indiana 14-2 in fastbreak points and 16-9 in points off turnovers. As previously mentioned, Craft and Scott each had four steals, but it was a team effort chipping the ball out, remaining in good helpside defensive position, and grabbing the defensive rebounds to get out and run. A game in the seventies or eighties would not have been a good thing for the Buckeyes against this Indiana attack, so junking it up and keeping Indiana in the fifties was a great recipe for success. Thad Matta certainly deserves some credit for that.

Indiana never seemed to truly recover from their first half foul trouble as the crew of Valentine (did he have money on IU or what?!), Steratore, and Wymer sent both Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller to the bench for significant time in the first half with two fouls. Oladipo didn’t even take a shot in the first half before hitting the bench around the 11 minute mark, while Zeller did impose his will, getting both Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel in foul trouble before getting in foul trouble himself with about six to go. That allowed the Buckeyes to play small ball to end the first half with Thomas and LaQuinton Ross at the four and five. The Bucks went on a 7-0 run for the last 5:47 of the half with that unit as Ross scored on back-to-back possessions for his only points of the game.

Whereas the trio on the Hoosier frontline were unstoppable in Columbus, the foul trouble helped slow them on Senior Night in Bloomington. Zeller had a pretty efficient night, shooting 5-of-9 for 17 points, converting 7-of-8 at the line. However, he had just four rebounds, and he was outmuscled in the second half by Ravenel. He also turned the ball over three times. Oladipo had some stunning highlights from this game, including a wow-inducing helpside block in the second half, but he was just 3-of-6 from the field for seven points, amassing four turnovers and just one assist. Christian Watford was 4-of-10 from the field for his 12 points, and the Hoosiers shot just under 40% in this contest. The Buckeyes gave Indiana their lowest halftime total (25) and largest deficit on the season (11) in this game.

In the second half, IU came out firing from their 3-point halftime deficit. The Hoosiers made their first six shots of the quarter and regained the lead and stretched it to five early in the second half. But, Indiana couldn’t sustain it, and they went 0-for-5 from the field with four turnovers for a stretch after that.

Aaron Craft went to work in that second half, taking the team’s offensive effort on his back. Dominating the ball, Craft made some heady plays at both ends of the floor. Craft chipped down on Zeller and Watford in the post, pestering them and preventing the slow, deliberate post moves where Indiana can thrive with a mixed bag of fakes, spins, and shots over the top of outstretched arms. Offensively, it was his confidence returning to his mid-range jumper and finishing off the glass when he went inside for a layup or a short jumper. Craft gave the Bucks the 15-point effort to help Thomas that I clamored for pre-game yesterday, and he shot 7-of-10 from the field, turning the ball over just twice. In fact, the Buckeyes turned it over just eight times as a team and had ZERO live ball turnovers. With a team like Indiana that loves to get Oladipo and Ferrell to push tempo, that was critical to minimize those opportunities.

Moreover, OSU’s phenomenal defense extended to the three-point arc where the threes were deep and mostly contested. The Hoosiers average about 7.5 makes a game, shooting it at a 41 percent clip. Last night, however, they made just 6-of-15 attempts.

There were a couple of daggers late in this game, and I’m not quite sure which one struck the fatal blow. It could have been Thomas’s pick and fade for a right wing three following a sensational Amir Williams block that gave the Bucks a nine-point lead with just over four minutes to play. It could have been the Shannon Scott steal on Oladipo and the transition slam by Lenzelle Smith Jr. that followed one minute later. But, all doubt was certainly removed when Craft scored over the elite defender Oladipo, driving on him then jump stopping and fading away over the top of his long arms, finishing off the glass as he did on multiple occasions.

When I looked at some of the Big Ten contenders’ schedules down the stretch earlier this year, I saw Indiana traveling to Michigan and just knew somehow that Sunday’s game would influence the Big Ten crown in some way, shape, or form. That game will basically determine whether Indiana wins the Big Ten regular season outright or if there is a split with as many as four teams potentially sharing the crown. If the Wolverines win at Purdue tonight, they’ll set themselves up for a championship game scenario Sunday, and the Buckeyes can then grab their share of the title by beating Illinois on Sunday afternoon in The Schott if UM is victorious. OSU got ambushed by the Illini in Champaign in a 19-point loss, so with all that’s potentially at stake, let’s hope there’s no letdown.

With the win, Ohio State notches its third Top-5 win (No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Michigan State at home), and more than anything it was a statement. Ohio State’s a three-time defending Big Ten champ, and on this night, they weren’t willing to give up their shot at four straight. Now, if the Buckeyes can take care of business early on Sunday, all eyes will be on Ann Arbor and rooting for the rival Wolverines to pull out a “W.” Excuse me while I grab my barf bag.

(Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)

  • MrCleaveland

    Agree completely about the defense. That was some tenacious D we laid on the Hoosiers, especially in the last four or five minutes, and it won the game for us.

    This has been the best Big “Ten” season in memory, and the next few weeks are going to great fun to watch.

  • TSR3000

    That barf bag goes both ways…it was tough rooting for OSU last night. This B1G season has been incredible. It would be fitting to have a 4 team tie for 1st.

  • mgbode

    i’m rooting for Michigan to lose. i don’t ever envision a scenario where that is not the case :)

  • JK

    I can’t wait for the B1G & NCAA tourny.. I don’t ever remember a season like this where there are no clear favorites and legitimatley 10-15 teams who I could see winning it all. Also, please put us in Gonzaga’s #1 overall bracket, that would be lovely.

  • Harv 21

    don’t have time to closely follow college ball but love watching Aaron Craft, for the little things he does so well on both ends of the court. Sometimes it’s like watching an instructional video.

    Not that it’s so important, but will be curious to see if he can carve out an NBA career, where such ridiculously skilled athletes are now playing PG.

  • mgbode

    remember Tyronn Lue vs. Allen Iverson in the NBA Finals? that is the type of role I expect Craft to play at the NBA level. 2nd round selection, backup PG who may get some good time in crunch time against the elite PGs by being a royal pain in the rump. the type of guy you loathe to go against.

    Bruce Bowen of the PGs (if Craft can develop a spot-up 3pter, then he’ll have a long career).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Reminds me of a poor man’s Nash. If Craft can work on his jump shot and develop something he’ll not only stick around the NBA but possibly flourish. He actually hit a couple jumpers not to mention a nice running bank shot from the side.

  • mgbode

    please explain further. Craft doesn’t have the vision or shot of Nash, but plays amazing defense that Nash never did.

  • Harv 21

    Nash has lightning quick feet – maybe that soccer thing – and I don’t see that with Craft. But I’m pretty lousy at projecting whether guys who aren’t clearly explosive have sufficient athleticism to survive with smarts and technique in the NBA. Smart guys with vision like Larry Bird flourished, while Danny Ferry’s scoring at will against top college competition turned out to have much to do with him just knowing pro techniques before other collegians did. I thought Carlos Boozer was klunky and the beneficiary of great teammates, and was going to be one level above NBA stiff, and he has scored at will for a decade.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nash had quick feet watching him and fellow 35+ year old Derek Fisher battle last night made me remember yester year! Obviously I have no idea whether Craft can develop into anything more then perhaps a journeyman defensive player in the NBA but he showed me more last night verse Indiana then I had seen previously.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Not Nash in his prime or when he started to get recognition but Craft showed me alot more last night in the way of some sort of jump shot not to mention setting teammates up better to go along with his defensive prowess. Obviously there is a very long road to go before anyone would ever confuse Craft with Nash but watching last night I saw more similarities then previously. Craft will have alot of work to do but I don’t think he’s unfamiliar with that so who knows.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    So you aren’t going to root for Michigan to beat Indiana in their last game, thus having Ohio State get a share of the B1G title, which we otherwise wouldn’t with a Michigan loss?

    That is some Silky Johnston level hate there.

  • TSR3000

    Michigan fans usually don’t care if MSU or OSU wins or loses but OSU and MSU fans’ inferiority complexes drive them nuts and they cannot live with Michigan winning.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Kirk

    Ha! Yea.. I don’t think that’s the reason. From an OSU perspective anyway.

  • mgbode

    hmmm, all the UM fans I know were rooting against the Buckeyes the past decade pretty hard. I don’t care about your little brother school.

  • mgbode

    i’m a simpleton. always root against Michigan. if they win, then well at least they have to share that title with us.

    besides the conference champ that matters is the last team standing in Chicago.

  • Harv 21

    only saw about 7 min of game but at one point Craft was guarding his man and hedging when the PG dropped the ball into the post player. Though turned mostly toward his man he saw the ball behind him the moment it was knocked loose in the post, pivoted, grabbed the loose ball and fired cross-court to start a fast break. Just a total court awareness/anticipation play showing he knew where everything was and would be. But again, there’s a lot of veteran smarts in the pros, the players are stronger and quicker, so who knows what he can be.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    Reminds me more of a Manu Ginobli type: never pretty, but all hustle – all the time.