December 19, 2012

Craft's maturity an asset for Buckeyes

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Aaron Craft hasn't been scoring at the rate that he started the season at, but Thad Matta doesn't mind.

After starting the season as Ohio State's clearcut second scoring option behind Deshaun Thomas, averaging 17 points per game in the Buckeyes' first three games, a 3-for-15 shooting performance against Duke on Nov. 28 turned into a month-long slump for Craft, that has seen him fail to reach double digits in scoring in the five games since the Buckeyes' loss to the Blue Devils.

That's just fine with Matta, who is well aware of the other attributes that the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year can bring to a game each night.

"I've got no problems with Aaron," Matta said following OSU's 85-45 win over Savannah State on Dec. 12. "I don't know, as a coach, if you ever have more of a secure feeling knowing he's out there and what he's doing.

Just one game later, those intangibles that Matta mentioned in regards to Craft were made apparent. After taking a 50-35 lead into halftime during their matchup with UNC-Asheville last Saturday, the Buckeyes were outscored by the Bulldogs in the final 17 minutes of what was ultimately a 90-72 OSU win. Matta said that it's no coincidence that UNC-Asheville's biggest runs came when Craft was sitting on the Buckeyes' bench for the final 11 minutes of the game.

"When you take Aaron Craft off the floor, things like that can happen," Matta said. "People talk about he hasn't scored, he hasn't shot- Aaron Craft makes this basketball team go. He has a sense of maturity about him, and I think everyone else has to come into the circle on that."

Matta isn't the only one who notices when Craft isn't on the court.

"(It's) a totally big difference on the defensive end," Thomas said. "Not seeing him out there, it kind of brings the team down a little bit because of the presence he brings on defense. We know Aaron's not going to score as many points, but the defensive end's a big part and he helps us in that."

It's that maturity that both Matta and Thomas referenced that has allowed Craft to endure his shooting slump without having it affect other areas of his game. Despite having made just 12 of his past 42 shot attempts over the course of the Buckeyes' last six games, the Findlay, Ohio native said that he's unaware of his shooting percentage and is just focused on his team's results.

"I do know that the last couple games that we've gotten better as a basketball team and that's the biggest thing for us. The worst thing we can do is start trying to think individual," Craft said. "As a team, as a whole, we've gotten better."

After going scoreless in the Buckeyes' win over Savannah State, Craft admitted that he can't remember the last time that he failed to tally a point for an entire game. He credits his father with installing the attitude in him, that has allowed him to both remain positive and a vital member of his team.

"Growing up, playing with older guys and just not being as advanced as those other people, as experienced, trying to make an impact on the game in other ways than scoring," Craft said. "That's something that I take pride in and like to do."

While unhappy with the Buckeyes' past two efforts, Matta said that he's starting to see more maturity from his relatively young team, which isn't all that surprising given the presence that Craft provides in the locker room.

"We're heading in the right direction in that regard," Matta said of his team's maturity. "I had a guy the other day during the game that kind of, I don't want to say lost his mind but he went solo for a couple minutes, and after he apologized and said, 'Hey, I lost it there' and I thought wow, that's a step in the right direction that he knew it."

But with No. 9 Kansas ahead on Saturday and the Big Ten season looming, Matta admitted that at some point, Craft may need to provide more than just leadership and defense for the Buckeyes to be successful.

"Yeah, I want him to score more. He wants to score more. Our team is probably going to need him to score more," Matta said. "But that's going to come back for him, there's no doubt in my mind. He'll get that going."


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