Aaron Craft shouldering offensive load means success for Buckeyes

Ohio State coach Thad Matta spent some of Monday morning’s Big Ten teleconference talking about Aaron Craft’s academics and schoolwork. Craft was named the Academic All-America of the Year last week, and Matta discussed how effective Craft has been at carrying his academic load during his career at Columbus.

Just add it to the growing list of responsibilities Craft has picked up as a Buckeye.

Since arriving on campus, Craft has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He’s been assigned to guard the opponent’s best scoring guard on a nightly basis for the last few seasons -- and has excelled. As a junior, though, Craft has become more of a scoring option -- and that’s something that will need to continue down the stretch for Ohio State.

In Sunday’s signature win over Michigan State, Craft scored 21 points and dished out six assists, consistently getting into the lane and creating issues for the Spartans’ defense. He made seven field goals against the Spartans, and all seven shots were in the paint.

“Second half, he tore us apart,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the game, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

His scoring numbers aren’t drastically improved as a junior, but his development as a consistent weapon will be a much-needed asset for the Buckeyes going forward.

Craft has scored 15 or more points on five separate occasions this season, and Ohio State is 4-1 in those games. In the team’s seven losses, he scored seven or fewer points three times -- and averaged just 2.5 assists in those games. When Craft is being an effective playmaker, drawing defenders and either kicking out or finishing, Ohio State is a far better offensive unit.

“He’s such a threat when the ball is in his hands,” Matta said. “His ability to make a read and know when to penetrate, or when to fall back and find his open guys. Twenty-one and six assists, that’s a heck of a line for us.”

Deshaun Thomas is one of the best scorers in the country, but he can’t do it all himself. And this is an interesting note: When Thomas scores 15 points or fewer, Ohio State is 4-0. Taking some of the offensive responsibility off his shoulders will be a major plus for the Buckeyes in the NCAA tournament.

And Craft finding ways to be a consistent offensive threat will determine whether that happens.

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