CHICAGO — The No. 10 Buckeyes showed the world why they are a trendy pick to go deep in the NCAA Tournament with a 50-43 win over No. 22 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship.
And it’s all because they’re getting production from other guys besides Deshaun Thomas, who in my opinion should have been the Big Ten Player of the Year.
Thomas came into the game scoring 19.6 a game and still scored 17 but he earned it on 6-of-19 shooting, but the guy that makes it all work for them is junior point guard Aaron Craft. He had a stretch of four games in December where he didn’t take more than five shots and he’s been scoreless twice this season.
But he’s getting offensively assertive, knocking down the 12-15 foot jumper and doing more dribble drives to open up shooting or driving lanes for his teammates.
Craft has been known as a pesky defender his entire career and that’s not going to change. The Buckeyes have won plenty of games this year with Craft driving the opposing point guard nuts with relentless in-your-face defense.
Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson can attest to that. After getting off to a bumpy start this season, Jackson has earned his stripes with magical last-second shooting. But Jackson had to earn it against Craft by shooting 4-for-10 and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc for 10 points.
Before the game, all the talk was on how the Buckeyes got the doors blown off by 22 points at the Kohl Center on Feb. 17. Ohio State was down 17 before they notched 10 points that day and Buckeyes coach Thad Matta had some choice words after that devastating loss.
So how to combat the Badgers that play relentless D?
You play their game. Ohio State forced the Badgers into numerous quick shots, didn’t allow shooters space to get free on the perimeter — Wisconsin shot 3-for-18 from distance — and played excellent post defense all without having anyone get in foul trouble.
And the person that brought it all together was sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross. He epitomized hustle with 7 points, 4 rebounds and 1 steal in only 19 minutes.
“I thought Q was tremendous,” Thad Matta said, who tallied his third Big Ten Tourney title in four years. “He did have a couple of timely field goals for us, a couple big rebounds. That’s what we need from LaQuinton at that spot.”
With Ross gathering hustle stats, the high-flying sophomore forward Sam Thompson is the team’s hustler. He is a great weapon if the game’s pace turns quick or if Ohio State wants to reboot and speed up a slower-paced game.
It’s apparent that the defensive gameplan zeroed in Badgers’ freshman forward Sam Dekker. The scorer was hounded every time he got the ball, was 0-for-3 from distance and committed four turnovers.
Earning the Big Ten championship trophy and sporting snazzy red T-shirts following the game are nice, but winning a tournament in the toughest conference was a resume and confidence builder.
If anyone had questions about this team, those are answered after eight straight wins. Only question now is if the Buckeyes can make it 14 straight?
To contact Cory Jennerjohn e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @CoryJennerjohn