Wednesday, March 21, 2012

AARON CRAFT MORE THAN JUST A DEFENDER, HE'S BUCKEYES' LEADER

Aaron Craft (AP)
"He's the best defender in college. There's nobody better than him in college basketball."

Those are the words of Ohio State head basketball coach Thad Matta when asked about his starting point guard Aaron Craft, following the Buckeyes' 73-66 win over Gonzaga, this past weekend in the third round of the Men's NCAA tournament.

Craft, a native of northwest Ohio, has made a name for himself as a premier defender. But it was the offensive game of the sophomore first-team academic all-American that has the Buckeyes heading to Boston to play in the "Sweet 16."

With the seventh-seeded Bulldogs controlling the glass, as well as keeping Buckeyes all-American forward Jared Sullinger under wraps for much of the first half, Craft decided to go on the offensive and display to the boys from Spokane that he can light up the scoreboard if need be.

If it weren't for the scoring ability of Craft, the Buckeyes would be sitting in Columbus watching the rest of the tournament. There's no doubt about it ... Craft lifted the Buckeyes to victory.

"I think (Gonzaga) wanted Aaron to score the basketball," Sullinger said. "Everybody doesn't understand that Aaron is a scorer. He passes first with this basketball team.

"I mean, that was their game plan. He capitalized on it."

Bulldogs head coach Mark Few seconded Sullinger's analysis.

"We just decided that he needed to score, and we were going to dedicate some of our attention to some other people, you know, who had been kind of proven scorers," Few said. "So, therefore, that allowed him to kind of get the corner a couple times because we weren't showing quite as hard because we were worried about (Deshaun) Thomas and Sullinger."

The fact is Craft is a proven scorer. At Liberty-Benton High School as a senior he averaged 26 points per night. But he wasn't a household name being that he came from a small school in northwest Ohio. 

"The one thing I learned about all the high school things is, once you get to college, it doesn't matter that much," Craft said. "It all depends what you want to do when you get there, how hard you want to work."

Buckeyes senior — and fellow northwest Ohio native — William Buford said Craft is a tough match-up when he's motivated to score.

"Well Craft was aggressive and you know when he's in his mode it's hard to stop him," Buford said. "He was getting to the rim. Creating for himself and others. He had 10 assists too."

Craft finished the win against the Bulldogs with 17 points (7-9 FG), 10 assists, three rebounds and three steals.

It's pretty safe to say that Craft isn't just a premier defender, he can score and lead his team to victory, as well.

He's a complete player. A star player.

"He's such a prideful young man, and he wants to do everything," Matta said of Craft. "He covers so much ground. I don't know that I can pinpoint one thing and say, 'This is where I check.'

"As long as he's out there, I'm in pretty good shape ... "

And so are the Buckeyes chances of winning.

— You can follow Lee Hudnell on Twitter @LeeHudnell_TBT