The Shot: Aaron Craft's Heroics Save Ohio State's Season

By Kyle Rowland on March 25, 2013 at 10:00a
Aaron Craft's dagger won the game against Iowa State

The defining moment of Aaron Craft’s career took place on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. It wasn’t a dive on the floor or a steal that resulted in an Ohio State layup. No, Aaron Craft, Mr. Defense, hit a shot that saved Ohio State’s season and will place him in Buckeye lore for eternity.

That it was Craft who converted such a monumental basket – a 3 no less – is surprising. But his boneheaded plays and horrific free throw shooting added to the shock value.

Craft had two turnovers and made only 2 of 5 free throw attempts at a critical juncture down the stretch. Dating to an uber-successful high school career, the Findlay, Ohio, native has prided himself on smart play and a penchant for winning. But suddenly he looked vulnerable like no other point in his career.

It got so bad that even Craft’s kid sister, Cait, a member of the Ohio State women’s basketball team, chimed in on Twitter. “Alright Aaron, some free throws would be nice.”

“My teammates did a great job staying encouraging,” Craft said. “Whatever was going on, we were still in the game.”

The redemption was that much sweeter. As far as game-winning shots go, Craft’s wasn’t spectacular in the sense that he eluded pressure or made an acrobatic play. It was dribbles and a three-pointer. Add in the fact that he waved off the Big Ten’s leading scorer and Ohio State’s only true offensive scoring threat in Deshaun Thomas, who already had 22 points, and you have a story.

“Freshman year, I probably would have gotten mad. Last year, I probably would have gotten mad. This is just me growing up,” Thomas said. “I believe in him. I just let him go to work.”

Said Craft: “He came over and said I love you and hugged me. That made the wave-off OK. That was after the game ended. Before, he was kind of angry.”

That last statement was said tongue-in-cheek with a smile attached to Craft’s face. He might be the ultimate villain to opponents, but it’s hard not to admire Craft’s effort and determination.

His grittiness led to arguably the second biggest play of the game, drawing a charge with 1:41 left that later became the source of controversy.

“We know I'm a defensive guy,” Craft said. "So I think I’m in the backyard … 3 … 2 … 1 … taking a charge.”

Having frittered away a 13-point lead in less than two minutes, Ohio State found itself trailing by a point when Iowa State’s Will Clyburn drove to the basket and dropped in a layup.

The whistle blew and most of the 13,000 in attendance believed it was a block, count the basket and-1. The officials called a charge, though, giving the Buckeyes new life. Instead of being down three with a free throw pending, the margin remained one point.

“I felt like it was a good play,” Clyburn said. “I’m not sure if he got position or if he was there or not. I really don’t have much to say about what the ref did or called.”

“That’s the competitor in Craft and our whole team,” Thomas said. “We feed off that.”

The amount of attention spent on whether it was a charge or a block was unjust. In basketball, 50/50 calls are part of the game. A little more than a month ago, Craft was on the other side of a 50/50 call, when he was hacked by Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. on a last-second shot.  

“That’s the competitor in Craft and our whole team,” Thomas said. “We feed off that.”

On Sunday, Craft made sure he didn’t need to get a foul call on a buzzer-beater, choosing to settle for a 3. On the previous possession, Craft noticed Georges Niang gave him space to shoot, so he figured it’d happen again. Sure enough, Niang sagged back as to not allow Craft a clear path to the basket.

Big mistake. Craft doesn’t let slip-ups fester inside. It’s always on to the next play.

“He’s special,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said.

Craft has the ability to get his coach and teammates to say extraordinary things about him. He’s the ultimate team player, deflecting praise at every turn. Even in the aftermath of a bold move that resulted in March’s signature moment, Craft was engrossed in the what-ifs.

“I was going to feel pretty bad if we ended up losing that game,” he said. “These guys have worked very hard, and for me to have some turnovers and miss free throws, that definitely wasn’t fair to them. I was as relaxed as I could be and was able to knock down a shot for us.”

Usually seen moving about the court like a waterbug pickpocketing opposing guards, Craft this time improvised and called his own number on offense. It’d be a show of selfishness for most players, but not when it’s the consummate teammate.

When the ball went through the hoop, 12 Buckeyes came running at Craft. He remained stoic and expressionless, barking defensive orders. After all, 0.5 seconds still remained on the clock.

It was only after Korie Lucious’ desperation attempt fell well short that Craft flashed a smile and glad-handed teammates.

“I saw him when he released it,” Thomas said. “I knew it was in. The one thing he did when he made it, he didn’t celebrate. He said, ‘Let’s play D!’ That’s what is so good about him.”

The uncharacteristic series of events by Craft seemed to match up with the theme of the West Region. The first three days of the tournament were marked by the region crumbling in dramatic fashion. Seeds No. 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 were all sent home much earlier than anticipated.

The No. 2 seed giving up a double-digit lead and an All-Big Ten player performing like a walk-on fit the script. But Ohio State had a Hollywood ending of its own.
“I guess those free throws are forgiven,” Cait tweeted.

“Hopefully we don’t have to do it again,” Aaron said.


Comments Show All Comments

Borrowed Time's picture

I love how genuinely excited Deshaun is at the end

dtanmango's picture

It was a pretty sweet 3. I am pumped to have such a team playing point guard leading our team :D


joel121270's picture

You know, if Thomas comes back next year and the way this team is starting to grow...OMG, look out.

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

Forget next year.  Look out for this team come Thursday.  I am excited for now.  Go Bucks!

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

NW Buckeye's picture

Does anyone recall the bumping incident earlier in the 2nd half?  I thought it involved Niang throwing a shoulder after a time out had been called and they were walking back to their benches.  Regardless of who it was, the last shot was perfect poetic justice for that. Even better if that was indeed Niang!!  

IBleedSandG's picture

Yep, it was Niang that bumped in to him. Someone on Bucknuts posted a clip of a postgame interview w/ Niang and he was pretty much crying his eyes out. Karma...


toad1204's picture

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

JeffCoBuck's picture

Niang was definitely the one.  It wasn't particularly violent, but you could tell it was done with intent.  Remember your place, freshman.

avail31678's picture

Yep.  And Craft handled it well - he didn't get angry, you could just seem him say "C'mon, man."  Sweet revenge - shooting right over Niang to win the game.
i thought I saw Niang durign the game reach out to Craft and it looked like Craft semi-reluctantly slapped his hand, so maybe they're friends.

BuckeyeW's picture

No, Craft just batted it away. He didn't want to shake his hand or anything like that.

misterpants's picture

Yes. Given that Scott was called for a T in the first half, I think a lot of people were yelling at their TVs when they saw that bump.

NW Buckeye's picture

Exactly, but you didn't hear CB even mention that in his critique of the reffing.  Talk about one sided commentating!  What a rube.  

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

The pick that was set on craft in the first half in the Iowa State backcourt that looked like a high school football safety hit also hasn't been pointed out.  That should have been a T.

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BUCKtuckian's picture

People are saying that I'm an alcoholic, and that's not true, because I only drink when I work, and I'm a workaholic.
Ron White

IBleedSandG's picture

I love the "holding of the finish" and the point to the crowd. What an epic shot. DT's face/reaction was classic as well


Ethos's picture

those hater pundits better not make that foul call a big deal like they do the pass interference bs in the miami game.  It gets tiring.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

OldColumbusTown's picture

Getting to the Sweet Sixteen any year, no matter your team, is a great accomplishment.  That has been proven even more with what we've seen happen in the West Region this year.  Thad Matta has done so four years in a row now.  This team, with all its faults and with all the doubts surrounding it throughout the season, was questioned as to whether they had the talent or mental fortitude to get there this time around.  What they have accomplished, especially in the last 2-3 weeks of this season, is truly remarkable. 
Thad Matta is the man, and has silenced many doubters with the job he's done with this group.  No post player, no consistent three point threat, a "thought-to-be" offensively limited point guard, very little real-game experience from 4 of the top 8 rotation players... the list goes on and on.  He has molded a group of young men into a tremendous unit who defend like their lives depend on it, and who trust one another to step up and make a play when the time calls for it.
Anything else this team accomplishes this season is icing on the cake.  They have a very enticing bracket ahead of them, but nothing can be expected in this year's wacky college basketball season.  It has been a joy and a pleasure to watch this team develop, and I can only hope it continue for two more weeks!  O-H!

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Thad Matta is the man, and has silenced many doubters with the job he's done with this group.  No post player, no consistent three point threat, a "thought-to-be" offensively limited point guard, very little real-game experience from 4 of the top 8 rotation players...

I agree with you on the great job Thad has done as well as on what were the apparent weaknesses of the team in February.
Now, though, we could argue that Q has turned into a pretty effective inside scorer who can post up smaller forwards as match-ups dictate; the combination of Q, DT, Craft, Thompson, and Smith shooting threes is fairly solid if not on the same level as were Diebler & co.; obviously, you agree that Craft is not offensively limited; and now the top 8 rotational players have developed good in-game experience under fire.
With those former weakness mostly (or at least partly solved), though, this team will still have to scrap for any/every victory in the subsequent rounds of this tournament. They won't have a big margin for error against the likes of Arizona, Louisville, etc. To beat the better teams, they have to play intense and focused defense at all times, yet they still tend to go into funks at both ends of the court, and so do they have enough cold blooded offensive assassins to pull them out of trouble (although Q is showing signs of being one)?

OldColumbusTown's picture

Right.  I'm mostly comparing what were the glaringly real weaknesses of the team all season, even as late as mid-February, and how Matta has brought this team together to mask those weaknesses enough that they have won 10 in a row, mostly over some very, very good clubs.
He has developed those "inexperienced" players (Thompson, Scott, Williams, Ross) into essential contributors; he's given more freedom to Craft with the late shot clock ball-screen action to let him do his thing; he's beautifully incorporated the outside shooters into the offense to get them the ball in their "hot spots" so they are better equipped to make more three's; he's also developed the small-ball lineup that can cause matchup problems for the opponent while covering up the low-post threat deficiency.
Matta has done a masterful job this season.  His best yet, I'd say, and that is saying a lot!

JeffCoBuck's picture

On a side note, massive props to Will Clyburn for not getting into the whole "did-or-didn't-the-ref-screw-up" debate.  He showed more class than Charles Barkley by a country mile.  I'll be rooting for him in the future (provided they don't play OSU again).
I never in a million years dreamed that Craft would take a three there.  Tie game, I figure he's gonna break to the rim, hit a layup, or get fouled in the process and get to the line.  That shot was Cold.  Blooded.  WOW.

BuckeyeNinja's picture

I may be in the minority but Ohio State should have never been in the position for that game winner anyways. I love craft but he played sloppy at the most crucial part of that game. Ross put the game in a place to where we should have won it comfortably. Again I love Craft but he single-handedly almost lost us the game. Nice last shot though.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Even the best teams need a lot of luck to win in the NCAA tournament.  No NCAA tournament has been won on talent alone.

Read my entire screen name....

toad1204's picture

Really impressed with Ross playing the 5 yesterday during the small lineup.  Good to see all that talent come out at the right time.

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

xrox's picture

I agree with you generally. But there were some dominant UCLA teams. And that 2nd Florida run was unstoppable when they wanted to play hard.

jbcuky's picture

You did watch Kentucky last year, right? And North Carolina in 2009 when they won every game by double-digits, right?

William's picture

Kentucky only beat Iowa State by single digits last year. 2008-2009 UNC is a solid example though. 

jbcuky's picture

They beat Iowa State by 16, 87-71. They did beat Louisville in the Final Four by 8 and Kansas in the Final by 8, but I would say they were the most talented team and didn't need luck to win any game.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

A). No one is more intimately aware that Craft had a bad, potentially very costly stretch in the second half of yesterday's game than Aaron Craft, himself.
B). If we assume that Craft's mistakes cost the Buckeyes about -6 or -8 points, that still does not account for him "single-handedly" losing a 13-pt lead.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I was going nuts as Craft seemed to be wrecking OSU's Sweet 16 bid with one uncharacteristic miscue after another. When he kept the ball at the end as the clock was running down and before he took the shot I yelled, "No!!!! Pass the ball!!!!! Get it to Deshaun!!!!!!!!" And then he released and the shot went in and I couldn't believe it. I jumped around and was yelling "YES!!!!!!!!!!!!" My wife, who hardly ever watches games with me because she thinks I get "too emotional", looked at me and said "So you were mad cause he kept the ball and shot it, but he made it and you love him?" And I said, "Yep, pretty much."

Earle's picture

The West Region is nutso.  Up is down, top seeds are dropping like flies, and Craft is turning the ball over and missing FT's down the stretch, yet waving off Deshaun and hitting game winning threes.
I don't understand it but as my 8 yr old son says:  "I dont like it.  I love it."

Snarkies gonna snark. 

input4u's picture

This made me laugh.  Same feelings I had...
LaQuinton Ross is becoming a factor.  And that should scare the rest of the Field of 16 in our way to the promised land.

lakejamesbuck's picture

You nailed it!!! Our house exactly!!! How sweet it was!!!

Klingenator's picture

I think DT's reaction in the last five seconds pretty much summed up 90% of Buckeye Nation.  Pissed when he didn't pass it to absolute joy when the ball made the net sing.  It was a fabulous course of events.

BuckeyeNinja's picture

I just hope this was a one game situation for craft...If he has the miscues going forward we will lose

ATXbucknut's picture

That clutch shot was absolutely Craftmatic. I could watch it all day.

ATXbucknut's picture

That shot still send chills. Right up there with ET's buzzer beater against ichigan and Ron Lewis' against Xavier.
1) The fear of being smothered by stifling defensive pressure during a basketball game.
2) The fear that a player will feign total basketball incompetence for 5:59 of the final 6 minutes, only to have said player hit a soul-shattering 3-pointer with under a second remaining to defeat your team.
3) The fear that your mother loves Aaron Craft more than she loves you.

SuperBuckFan08's picture

Soul-shattering. I love it. 

Because I couldn't go for three.   -Woody-

LexingtonBuckeye's picture

Go back and take a look at our other guys on the court.Gotta give props to shannon, Q and LSjr on crashing the boards. LSjr was in position for a putback if time allowed or was needed (it wasn't, thankfully). Q was flying in and so was shannon. Those are the game-winning type plays that go unnoticed but when you need them could prove the difference. I love the aggressiveness right there.

slippy's picture

Q has been a monster on the O boards during this win streak.  Been playing great d too - if you watch the way he uses his hands now you can tell he's been learning from Craft.  He also had a couple of blocks in a short period of time yesterday.

lakejamesbuck's picture

If you line up every point guard in the country and had to pick hesitation it is Craft all the way. He does so many things for this the guy just has that "IT" factor that is soooo much fun to watch.

Keith's picture

"Damn! That's a cold ass honkey"
-Thrift Shop

William's picture

Used to really enjoy Macklemore, but his latest album was just turrible. 

Dougger's picture

#1) right in Niang's face is soooooooooooooo sweet
2) DT has not gotten enough credit for the tip turnover he caused on the other end to get the bucks the ball. Pure hustle play that probably wouldn't have happened last year

I like football

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

So true on #2. That was a lay up if DT didn't lay out to deflect the ball. A micro-example of his evolution as a player. Can you imagine the freshman version of DT doing that? 

nickma71's picture

I loved the shot almost as much as this one.
Turner's is better because a miss by Craft would be OT.

Maestro's picture

My 2nd favorite part of that shot was the fact that after about 1 nanosecond of enjoyment that the shot went in Craft was pointing for his teammates to play defense because the clock had not run out yet.
My 2nd grade daughter asked why the Iowa State player was crying on the sideline (Booker I believe) after Craft made the shot and my response was as PC as I could make it.  "Aaron Craft just broke his heart sweetie."

vacuuming sucks