Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said before Tuesday night’s game that Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft isn’t hard to scout.
“You know where he’s going to be,” McCaffery said. “He’ll be after the ball, and he’s good at it.”
Turned out Craft was also good at scoring, too.
Craft’s crucial three-point play with 1:17 remaining served as the dagger in the Buckeyes’ 76-69 Big 10 Conference win over the No. 17 Hawkeyes at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
The key play capped a 17-point, six-steal, six-assist effort for Craft as Ohio State (18-5, 5-5) won its second consecutive conference road game against a ranked team. The Buckeyes toppled 14th-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison, although they fell out of the Top 25 for the first time this season after falling at home Wednesday night to Penn State.
“Couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “I thought they did a phenomenal job of maintaining their composure. Offensively, our execution was really good. Guys stepped up and made plays.”
Ohio State canned 51 percent of its field-goal attempts and iced the game at the foul line, converting 10 of 12 in the last minute to exact revenge for an 84-74 home defeat to Iowa last month.
Forward LaQuinton Ross added 13 points, and center Amir Williams and guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. netted 12 each. Guard Shannon Scott scored 11 points off the bench for the Buckeyes.
Craft didn’t score in the second half until it was absolutely necessary. Guard Anthony Clemmons’ left elbow jumper drew the Hawkeyes within 63-59 at the 1:46 mark, but Craft blew past his defender and drew a foul from forward Gabriel Olaseni while converting a driving layup.
“I thought Aaron was as good as he’s been,” Matta said. “Who gets six steals in a basketball game? That kid was everywhere. The other thing he did was do a phenomenal job of leading this team.”
Guard Mike Gesell scored 16 points to pace Iowa (17-6, 6-4), and Olaseni contributed 14 points and six rebounds in a reserve role. Guard Roy Devyn Marble managed 10 points but made just four of 11 shots and committed four turnovers.
The Hawkeyes outrebounded Ohio State 38-25 but shot poorly most of the night, canning just three of 20 3-point attempts. Only a late flurry enabled Iowa to finish the game at 45 percent from the floor.
The Buckeyes took command just past the midway point of the second half with a 9-2 spurt, capped by Scott’s transition layup off a Craft steal that made it 58-49 with 6:19 left. From there, they fought off a couple of mini-runs with key buckets, such as Williams’ jam off a lob pass from the baseline with two seconds left on the shot clock and just over four minutes remaining.
While Winter Storm Nika will keep Ohio State in Iowa City an extra night, it is not going to prevent the Buckeyes from enjoying perhaps their best win of the season.
“We thought things through in a great college basketball environment,” Matta said, “and we made our free throws at the end.”
NOTES: In an amazingly even series, Iowa and Ohio State each owned 76 wins heading into Tuesday night’s game, with each team winning 47 times at home. … The Buckeyes entered the game leading the Big Ten in scoring defense (58.9 points per game), 3-point field-goal defense (26.5 percent) and turnover margin (plus-3.5). They also were 14th nationally in fewest fouls per game (16.1). … Before Tuesday’s game, the Hawkeyes had made more free throws (484) than their opponents had attempted (441).
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