The Ohio State basketball team pulled out yet another gritty victory in the NCAA tournament Thursday night, defeating No. 6-seed Arizona 73-70 to advance to the Elite Eight of the West Region.
For the second game in a row, Ohio State hit a shot with less than three seconds to go in the game to break a tie and advance. This time, it was LaQuinton Ross nailing a deep three from the left wing to keep the Buckeyes marching toward their second consecutive Final Four.
These wins embody the way the Buckeyes play. They keep coming at their opponent, and while it might not always be pretty, Ohio State has now won 11 in a row. The Buckeyes are officially the grittiest team in the country.
Louisville, Marquette and Wichita State might be in the conversation, too. The Cardinals’ pressure defense is relentless, and the Golden Eagles never know when to quit. The Shockers win with experience and toughness.
Still, these Buckeyes have to take the cake. Of course, it all starts with their point guard, Aaron Craft.
Craft was asked earlier this week by ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly whether he considered himself annoying.
“The way I play, I hope that’s the way I’m kind of viewed,” Craft responded. “That’s what I try to do to other people.”
He sets the tone for Ohio State, and even though he is not known for his offense, the ball is in Craft’s hands when the game is on the line. He shoots just 43.1 percent from the floor and 30.1 percent from three.
However, Ohio State coach Thad Matta and his teammates understand he will, more often than not, make a play with the game on the line.
Once again, Craft was the player initiating the offense, running a pick-and-roll with Ross on Ohio State’s final play Thursday. When Arizona doubled Craft coming off the screen, he alertly hit Ross for the game-winning three.
That ended a crazy sequence that demonstrated what this Ohio State team is all about. With the ball and a three-point lead, Craft missed a layup and Arizona was able to get out in transition. Wildcats guard Mark Lyons converted a layup and was fouled by Ross, making the free throw to tie the game with 21 seconds left.
That was the worst-case scenario for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did not panic or buckle. They bounced back immediately with Craft and Ross making the deciding plays. That is the grittiness that has put Ohio State directly in the national title conversation.
It is what allows Craft to overcome some poor plays and decisions down the stretch against Iowa State, hitting the game-winning three with just under two seconds to go.
That grittiness meant Ohio State would not panic down 11 in the first half of a virtual road game against the Wildcats with Craft having picked up two early fouls. Deshaun Thomas, the team’s leading scorer, was able to keep Ohio State afloat with his toughness and assertiveness early.
Then, season-long role players like Ross simply do what they have to do to win the game.
Ohio State assistant coach Chris Jent put it best after the game, according to a tweet from Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
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