At a 14.8 ppg clip, junior LaQuinton Ross is the leading scorer for the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, statistics don’t always define team leadership.
Without looking up any numbers, one glance at the Buckeyes would let even a mild college basketball observer note that senior Aaron Craft is the undeniable leader. Midway through the second half, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year put his bulldog mentality on display, helping No. 24 OSU (24-8) emerge from a dogfight over Purdue, 63-61, in the first round of the conference tournament in Indianapolis.
Neither team was able to distance itself from each other, as the game saw 10 ties and 15 lead changes. As Craft began to become more assertive, momentum began to supersede point differential. He scored eight of his 16 points in the final nine minutes of the second half, taking advantage of a youthful Boilermakers’ backcourt of brothers Ronnie and Terone Johnson that found themselves in foul trouble (both ended the game with four apiece).
Purdue (15-17) continues to fight back despite the shift in offensive effectiveness and were led by center A.J. Hammons, who registered 15 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. The brothers Johnson added 12 and 10 points, respectively, but the Boilermakers committed 11 of their 17 turnovers in the second half, killing many of their opportunities. A well-designed inbounds play to Terone Johnson resulted in a solid look at a three-point attempt for Terone, but the shot missed at the buzzer.
The Boilermakers entered the game on a six-game losing streak, losing both games during the regular season to the Buckeyes in convincing fashion, 78-69 in West Lafayette and 67-49 at Ohio State.
Ohio State is now 12-1 in their last 12 Big Ten tournament games and have appeared in the tournament final seven of the last eight years. They’re also the overall conference leader with four titles since the tournament began in 1998, holding a record 24-8 in the history of the postseason single-elimination event.
Ross shot just 8-of-21 from the floor, but led the Buckeyes with 19 points and 15 rebounds. They will face the four seed, Nebraska, in a quarterfinal tomorrow.