There is, in fact, only so much Aaron Craft can do. While he probably is Ohio State‘s best player, you wouldn’t have known he even had many teammates in the final tumultuous minutes of the Buckeyes’ 60-59 loss to the Dayton Flyers on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In the final 3 minutes, 32 seconds, Craft hit a layup, missed a free throw, committed a foul, converted a three-point play, got a rebound, dished an assist, made a layup and missed a jumper.
Of course, the only thing most Ohio State and Dayton fans are going to remember is that last missed shot, which came just as the buzzer sounded and fell off the rim, allowing the Flyers to beat the Buckeyes by a point and move on to face either Western Michigan or Syracuse in the third round of the South Region. Dayton is No. 11 seed. It stands to reason that everyone playing for Dayton, coaching Dayton, born in Dayton, or who has ever been to Dayton knew Craft was going to take the last shot. Sure enough, after getting the inbound pass with about four seconds left following Vee Sanford‘s go-ahead bucket for the Flyers, Craft drove the length of the court into traffic, threw up a shot, fell to the floor and it missed.
In all likelihood, by the time Craft got to the Dayton half of the court, he probably felt like there was no time for a pass, so the fact that other Buckeyes would have had open looks is perhaps irrelevant. And in another sense, it wasn’t like Craft had a bad game. He finished 6-for-9 from the field and 4-for-5 from the line for 16 points, while adding five rebounds, four steals and four assists. Who wouldn’t take that? He really was doing it all, so why not do it all right until the end?
But that is probably the rub with this year’s version of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Should Craft have to do it all? To be fair, he didn’t lead the Buckeyes in scoring today. That honor went to Sam Thompson (18 points). But Craft plays the most minutes, has the ball the most and is the one responsible for late-game decisions. All of which was fine when Ohio State was 13-0 entering Big 10 Conference play. Maybe not so much after the Buckeyes went 10-8 in the league and lost to bitter rival Michigan in the Big 10 Tournament semifinals.
Ohio State should be too good to have to rely on one player late. As good as Craft is, there should be enough around him and players comfortable with the ball late that Craft doesn’t have to turn into Kelly Leak from the Bad News Bears in order for the Buckeyes to have any chance to win. They really needed Craft to be Superman just to have a chance to beat Dayton? Granted, Dayton is no slouch. They are 24-10 and went 10-6 in an Atlantic-10 Conference that this year was decent, though perhaps not as good as the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee made it out to be.
The worst news for Ohio State is that Craft is a senior, and perhaps that helped fuel his exploits Thursday, putting the game in his own hands late to try and keep his career going. From a personal standpoint, that’s understandable and very hard to argue with. But not only did Ohio State need someone else to step to the foreground on Thursday, but they are going to need someone to do that to have any kind of success next season.