Craft's 3-pointer sends Ohio State past Iowa State

Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DAYTON, Ohio -- Fitting Ohio State would win it with a 3-pointer. The Buckeyes beat Iowa State at its own game Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in in four consecutive seasons in its storied basketball history. And Aaron Craft was the hero.
Craft's winning 3-pointer with 0.5 of a second left lifted second-seeded Ohio State to a heart-stopping 78-75 victory over 10th-seeded Iowa State in a third-round NCAA Tournament game at University of Dayton Arena.
"I'm very blessed and fortunate to make a shot like that for this university," Craft said. "This moment's bigger than me."
The Buckeyes (28-7) advance to face No. 6 seed Arizona in the West Regional semifinals on Thursday in Los Angeles, where OSU coach Thad Matta will face his former assistant at Xavier, Wildcats coach Sean Miller.
"I think the thing I'm most proud of is that Ohio State is the only team in college basketball that's going to a fourth straight Sweet 16," Matta said. "With this basketball team, that was something that we had talked about coming into the tournament."
Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State with 22 points, Craft added 18 and LaQuinton Ross had 17.
Craft said any of his teammates could have been the hero Sunday.
"LaQuinton was feeling good, or DT (Thomas) could've taken the shot," Craft said. "It just happened to be me. The shot I took before that felt pretty good, so I was confident it would go in."
With the score tied at 75, Craft missed a jumper, but the rebound caromed off an Iowa State player and the Buckeyes retained possession.
"Not corralling that rebound gave them an opportunity to win the game," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Then with 29.9 seconds remaining, Craft dribbled near the top of the key until Iowa State switched defenders and Craft ended up being guarded by Cyclones 6-foot-7 forward Georges Niang.
"I knew I had space," Craft said. "I got a clean look."
The Cyclones' defensive strategy on the final play was to prevent Craft from penetrating the lane and either create a better shot or draw a foul.
"We wanted to keep them out of the paint," Hoiberg said. "We thought Craft was more dangerous getting into the lane."
While perimeter shooting hasn't always been Ohio State's strength, it was Sunday. Iowa State, the nation's top 3-point shooting team, hit 12 3-pointers. But Ohio State went 9 of 18 from beyond the arc, including Craft's winner.
The Cyclones (23-12) rallied from a 13-point deficit late in the second half to take the lead before Craft's heroics rescued Ohio State. Korie Lucious led the Cyclones with 19 points, including five 3-pointers.
"It's tough," Lucious said. "We worked all year to get to this point. I thought we played hard the whole game. We fought back after being down."
Iowa State missed seven of its first nine 3-point attempts, including one by Bubu Palo that struck the side of the backboard. But the Cyclones would heat up later.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Will Clyburn and Niang late in the first half put Iowa State ahead 36-32. Clyburn finished with 17 points.
Iowa State played the second half without starting guard Chris Babb, who left with an apparent left ankle injury with 36.6 seconds left in the first half. Tyrus McGhee started the second half for the Cyclones and played well, finishing with 14 points.
"We have guys on the bench who can make plays," Lucious said. "Tyrus did a great job coming in. We had confidence in him."
Ohio State's small lineups were dominated on the boards in the first half, with Iowa State owning a 24-13 rebounding disparity, including 8-2 on the offensive end.
The Buckeyes, who led 38-36 at halftime, went on an 8-0 run early in the second half to build a six-point lead. But Iowa State kept creating second-chance scoring opportunities off its offensive rebounding, including a dunk by Melvin Ejim that cut Ohio State's lead to 52-51. Ejim finished with 10 points.
Ross scored 10 straight points to put Ohio State ahead 65-53. But the Cyclones didn't relent.
It took 2:11 for Iowa State to erase a 13-point deficit and tie the score 69-69 with 3:53 left. The Cyclones took the lead on McGee's 3-pointer.
"In the huddle, we knew we just needed to get stops, and that's how we changed things," Lucious said of the Cyclones' rally. "We just fell short."
NOTES: Before this season, the Buckeyes had reached the Sweet 16 three consecutive years, a feat last accomplished in 1960-62. ... Iowa State is one of only three schools to have three players with 60 or more made 3-pointers this season, joining Texas Southern and Michigan. ... Sunday's game was a record 100th NCAA Tournament game played at University of Dayton Arena.

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