DAYTON, Ohio – Aaron Craft dribbled in place at the top of the arc, watching to see if any of his Ohio State teammates were getting open near the basket for a game-winning shot.
The point guard had a clear look at the clock as it raced toward zero. He realized what he had to do – take a little Ohio State tournament history into his hands.
Craft swished a 3-pointer with a half-second left Sunday for a 78-75 victory over Iowa State.
“The moment’s a lot bigger than me,” said Craft, who had allowed Iowa State to catch up with missed free throws and an errant jumper.
Ohio State (28-7) needed Craft’s fearless shot – over 6-foot-7 defender Georges Niang – to avoid yet another upset in the West Regional. Four of the top five seeds fell fast and hard in the first weekend.
“With all that’s gone on in college basketball, anything’s possible,” Craft said. “You can see it with what’s gone on in our bracket right now.”
Tenth-seeded Iowa State (23-12) overcame a late 13-point deficit by hitting 3s but wound up beaten by one, a tough way to have their upset bid end.
“We played our hearts out,” said Will Clyburn, who scored 17 points. “It was a tough game and he made a tough shot. He made a great play.”
Craft’s missed free throws helped Iowa State catch up. He missed the front end of a pair of one-and-one chances and was off on a jumper from just inside the arc with 29.2 seconds left and the score tied.
The Cyclones knocked the ball out of bounds while trying for the rebound, setting up the final chance. Coach Thad Matta called a timeout and went over the options.
“I told ‘em, ‘Hey, let’s get the last shot; let’s play for the win here,’” Matta said.
When the Cyclones switched coverages to take away leading scorer Deshaun Thomas and put their tall freshman on Craft, the point guard decided to take it himself.
Not a bad outcome, Iowa State thought.
“He had a tough shot,” said Korie Lucious, who led Iowa State with 19 points. “He hadn’t hit a 3 all game.”