Ohio State men's basketball: Lineup changes successful
Fouls don’t keep Craft out; Smith guards hot hand
Ohio State’s Aaron Craft steals the ball from Arizona’s Brandon Ashley in the second half. Craft picked up two fouls in the first 101/2 minutes of the game.
LOS ANGELES — One play will forever be associated with Ohio State’s dramatic win over Arizona, but two other quieter moments pushed the Buckeyes to victory.
Both were subtle decisions easily lost in the vortex of emotion and action that filled the Staples Center for a West Regional semifinal last night.
One occurred in the first half, and the other in the second.
Neither was as memorable as LaQuinton Ross making a three-pointer with two seconds remaining to give OSU a 73-70 win that advanced the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7) into the regional final on Saturday.
The first decision came with 6:24 remaining in the first half as Kevin Parrom was making two free throws to put sixth-seeded Arizona up 33-22, causing the game to teeter on becoming a blowout.Ohio State coach Thad Matta and his assistants decided to gamble at that moment. They put point guard Aaron Craft back into the game even though he had two fouls and had sat out the previous 3:08.
“We thought if we were going to stay in the game and close the gap, he needed to be in there,” said assistant coach Jeff Boals. “We were going to live and die with him. Normally, you might sit Aaron the rest of the half (with two fouls), but when you’re playing in a Sweet 16 game, you can’t let the game get too far out of reach.”
Craft re-entered the game at the 6:23 mark, and the Buckeyes outscored the Wildcats 12-5 in the rest of the half to trail only 38-34 at the break.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do that my freshman year,” Craft said. “I’ve grown as a player. Trying to stay in the game helped us. I had to be a little smarter and not be as aggressive. You have to show your hands as much as possible (on defense) and trust your teammates.”
The second subtle moment contributing to Ohio State’s 11th-consecutive win occurred with 7:25 remaining in the game while Grant Jerrett was making two free throws to cut Arizona’s deficit to 60-54.
Ohio State junior forward Lenzelle Smith Jr. walked over to his coaches and kept saying, “I want 44. I want 44.”
That would be Solomon Hill, the Arizona senior forward who had scored his team’s previous nine points while being guarded by forward Sam Thompson.
“I knew I could stop him from scoring, or at least make it as tough for him to score as possible,” Smith said. “I wasn’t going to let him drive the lane and dunk on us like he had been doing, I knew that.”
Ohio State switched Smith onto him, and Hill didn’t score another point, finishing with 16.
“Lenzelle did a great job,” Boals said. “He was locked in.”
Besides his defensive play, Smith contributed six points, eight rebounds, two assist, one block and a steal. He also deflected the game’s final pass, a full-court Arizona heave intended for Hill after Ross had broken a tie.