November 28th, 2012. Eleven points on 3-of-15 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, three turnovers, five fouls. A 73-68 loss.
That was Aaron Craft, probably at the lowest point of his OSU career. Since that evening when the Buckeyes faded in the second half at Cameron against the nation’s top team, Craft has been a 33% shooter, averaging just 5.7 points per game. The Ohio State offense has faltered, and the Buckeyes had lost their only two true tests at home against Kansas and on the road against Illinois last Saturday. It didn’t start well for Craft last night either. With two early personal fouls, Craft sat for the final 15:41 of the first half. In that time, Shannon Scott helped the Bucks build a substantial lead with a strong all-around floor game. However, Craft had a tremendous second half, scoring 13 of his 15 points and leading the Buckeyes to their first road victory of the season 74-64 at Mackey Arena.
Purdue is just 7-8 on the season after last night’s loss, but Mackey Arena is one of the loudest and toughest places to play in the conference. The same 12th-ranked Illini team that demolished the Bucks got beat there just last week. What was most stunning about this game was the offensive diversity and halfcourt execution by the Buckeyes. Deshaun Thomas carried them through most of the first half (14 of his 22 in the first) by shooting over top of the Boilers’ defense for the most part, but Ohio State also got additional contributions from Evan Ravenel, LaQuinton Ross, and Sam Thompson. Ravenel poured in 7 first half points, including a couple of deep perimeter buckets. He finished with 11 points for the game after a missed dunk of his was originally credited to him and revoked because it was actually tipped in by Purdue. Ross saved the Buckeyes on a couple of dead possessions and scored a pair of baskets where he was fouled yet was unable to convert the free throws. 1 Thompson pulled off a contested show-stopping slam over Purdue’s center A.J. Hammons, and he managed a few other offensive plays throughout that are not in his regular arsenal. Shannon Scott ran the team brilliantly in Craft’s absence, posting 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in the first half without turning the ball over once. At this point in the game, I was ready to say run with Scott at the point and play Craft to spell him. Boy, how things change.
Craft came out determined in the second half, using high ball screens to attack the hoop and draw fouls. What really made the difference though was the junior point’s jumpshot returning when he so desperately needed it. Craft danced around two defenders at a time, finding the open man or getting to the lane and the line. With Scott out there in the dual point guard lineup, the ball didn’t stick, and the Buckeyes went back to moving the ball and finding the open man rather than having to rely on Thomas for everything in the halfcourt.
The defense had its holes, but it had solidified much more than the Illinois game. Purdue managed a whopping 44 points in the paint, and guard Terone Johnson sliced his way into the paint for 18 points, but Purdue shot just 39% from the field and had just three made three pointers. Also fortunate for the Bucks, the post threat Hammons battled foul trouble throughout the evening. Things got a little dicey, though, when Purdue drew six Ohio State fouls in the first six minutes of the second half to put themselves on the cusp of the bonus. OSU also struggled with defensive rebounding as the Boilermakers managed 14 offensive boards, but the Buckeyes pulled down some key 50-50 rebounds on that end and still won the battle 38-32. Lenzelle Smith Jr., in particular, showed why he is one of the best rebounding two-guards in the nation by grabbing 10 of his own to make up for a lackluster 1-of-6 shooting effort.
Purdue ultimately cut the Buckeye lead to just four and got the ball back down four with 2:25 remaining. Freshman point Ronnie Johnson got to the rack but missed the attempt as Smith Jr. ripped the rebound away from would-be offensive rebounders. On the next possession, the ball stayed in Craft’s hands, despite two defenders overplaying the screen he received, until the final second when Craft found Sam Thompson opposite side, who drilled a long two on the right wing to give the Bucks a six point lead with under two to go. The Buckeye defense ultimately clamped down and allowed just two Purdue points in the final 4:28. That’s how you win closely contested games in the Big Ten Conference.
With the win, OSU goes to 2-1 in the conference and stays in touch with the four undefeated teams in conference play (Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). Their next game is on Sunday afternoon against the #2 team in the nation, 15-0 Michigan, in Columbus. Thad Matta is 16-3 against Michigan in his Ohio State tenure, and the Wolverines are looking for their first win in Columbus since 2003. Yours truly will be there in person.
(Photo: Michael Conroy/AP)
The Bucks were just 8-for-15 from the line on the evening.