Ohio State men's basketball: Players’ practice a crafty plan?

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Aaron Craft is an academic All-American, but he’s also very good at playing dumb.

Six times during a 90-second interview before practice yesterday, the Ohio State senior said he did not know who instigated a players-only practice and meeting the day after the loss to Penn State last week in which the players did not wear their usual scarlet-and-gray practice jerseys, ostensibly because they were deemed not to be worthy of wearing them.

A source said Craft was the instigator.

“I don’t know,” Craft said.

The Buckeyes did not officially practice on Thursday, their NCAA-mandated day off for the week and one in which the coaches cannot be in the gym with them. That left them only one day to practice for their game on Saturday at Wisconsin.

“We wanted to come in,” Craft said, “and we were on the floor for 40 minutes without the coaches because … we couldn’t take the whole day off. We did that, got together as a team, talked a little bit, then watched the Penn State game (video) without the coaches.”

Craft did confirm that the players did not practice in scarlet–and-gray uniforms, but did not say what colors they were.

“I don’t have any say over the equipment. That’s our equipment guys,” he said. “We just wear what we get.”

Did he tell the “equipment guys” to not put scarlet–and-gray gear in the players’ lockers?

“I don’t know,” Craft said. “We just came in, and that’s what was in our lockers.”

One of the tenets of the Ohio State program under coach Thad Matta is to keep the team’s business “inside the O,” or within a small circle that includes only the players, coaches and a few other staff members. Media and fans are kept on the outside.

But the circle on Thursday was even smaller because even Matta said he was unaware of the scarlet-and-gray boycott. But he smiled when apprised of it.

“I’m going to go get them changed right now,” he said as he headed to practice.

The Buckeyes, who rebounded from their one-point overtime loss at home to last-place Penn State with a one-point win at Wisconsin, will need another motivated performance tonight at 17th-ranked Iowa.

The Hawkeyes’ only loss at home this season was to Michigan State seven days ago, and they beat the Buckeyes at Value City Arena for the first time in 10 years, by 10 points, when the teams first met Jan.12.

“We went in (to Wisconsin) and won a tough game,” Matta said. “I liked the last eight seconds, the defense that we played. I liked the energy we had in the huddles. Down the stretch, guys were talking, guys were saying, ‘We’ve got to do this. We’ve been here before.’ You hope you can build on that.”

Junior Sam Thompson said the win was more validating than the one over Illinois on Jan. 23 that was followed by the loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes’ fifth in sixth games.

“It was the way we won (at Wisconsin) more so than the fact we won,” he said. “We weathered the storm. They punched us in the mouth early … and we came back from that. We got back to doing what we do and got stops and frustrated them.

“It’s about the toughness and execution that you play with, to be able to win the games that come down to one bounce.”

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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