Aaron Craft struggled for much of the second half, but when the time came to step up on the biggest stage possible, the Ohio State guard was up to the challenge. Craft isolated, ran the clock down, and knocked down a buzzer-beating three-pointer to break a 75-75 tie, and give Ohio State a bid to the Sweet 16.
The game-winning jumper capped a wild second half that was about as see-saw of a battle as there has been in the entire tournament. Ohio State went on a 10-0 run to secure an 11-point lead with just under 9 minutes remaining, but Iowa State was resilient, going on their own 15-2 run to grab the lead back (at 72-71) with 3:22 left in the game. Then, Craft took over, and while he had made some uncharacteristically underwhelming plays (missed free throws, turnovers, etc.) in the previous minutes, he converted a 3-point play to take the lead with 2:35 to play, and took a game-changing charge with 1:41 left.
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Though Iowa State was outshot 51% to 44% in the game and they committed 16 turnovers, the Cyclones evened things up with a massive rebounding edge (35-20) caused by a wildly important 12 offensive rebounds. They out-hustled a “gritty” Ohio State team for much of the night, and they played over their heads. This was doubly impressive because ISU was without the services of their best defender (Chris Babb) for the entire second half with an ankle injury, and they didn’t make a single substitution for the first seventeen minutes of the second half. What a gutty performance.
In the end, this will likely be remembered as “The Aaron Craft Game” because of the final picture of him converting the game-winner, but it was a back-and-forth contest that was played at one of the highest levels of any game in the tournament. In contrast to some of the closer games, this battle featured both teams scoring the ball efficiently (shooting a combined 47.5% from the field and 48.8% from three), and rather than the semi-sloppy, low-scoring variety, this was two teams playing at their best.
The Buckeyes move on to face #6-seed Arizona on Thursday in Los Angeles, and they are the clear favorite in the West region after the toppling of #1-seed Gonzaga on Saturday night. The Buckeyes aren’t the most talented team in the country, but they have two top-tier players in Craft and DeShaun Thomas (who led them in scoring with 22 points on Sunday), and they can beat anyone any given night. Look for Thad Matta and his crew to make a serious push toward Atlanta.
Be sure to stay tuned to FanSided.com and BustedBrackets.com throughout the entire tournament as we keep you up to date with the latest results.