Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Buckeyes find a new offensive star in win

COLUMBUS, Ohio — All year long Ohio State's fans wondered whether Aaron Craft — one of the nation's top defenders — would ever make major contributions at the other end of the court.

He picked the perfect time to finally break loose.

Craft continually slashed through the lane for a career-high 21 points Sunday — more than he had scored in the past three games combined — to lead the 18th-ranked Buckeyes to a 68-60 victory over No. 4 Michigan State.

"Give Aaron Craft credit. In the second half, he tore us apart," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "It was Aaron Craft. He beat us every way you could beat us."

The pesky, bothersome junior defensive specialist hit 7 of 12 shots, most on drives through a thicket of players in the paint.

The loss crippled the Spartans' hopes of catching top-ranked Indiana, which now leads the Big Ten by two games with four left.

Freshman Gary Harris had 14 points for the Spartans (22-6, 11-4), who have dropped two in a row after winning 11 of 12.

Izzo questioned his team's grit: "You give up that many layups … they should run me out of town."

Ohio State (20-7, 10-5) boosted its flagging postseason resume. The Buckeyes went in having won once in eight games against ranked teams but were 18-0 against unranked teams.

Counting a 56-53 win over No. 2 Michigan on Jan. 13, it was the first time that Ohio State has ever beaten two top-5 teams at home in the same season.

Fans sang, "We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan" in the final minutes.

The big win came a week after the Buckeyes looked listless in a 71-49 loss at Wisconsin. They took the first step with a convincing 71-45 win over Minnesota before topping the Spartans.

"We beat two really, really good basketball teams," coach Thad Matta said. "Minnesota at one point this year was in the top 10 and these guys were No. 4 in the country. This was a big week for us — home, away, wherever — especially coming off of that game last week."

NO. 6 DUKE 89, BC 68: Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon scored a season-high 27 for the host Blue Devils (24-3, 11-3 ACC), who shot nearly 54 percent and outscored the Eagles 48-17 during a 15½-minute span that put this one out of reach by halftime.

NO. 7 MICHIGAN 71, ILLINOIS 58: Trey Burke had 26 points and eight assists to help the host Wolverines (23-4, 10-4 Big Ten) bounce back from a slow start.

NO. 20 PITT 63, ST. JOHN'S 47: Tray Woodall had a season-high 25 points, hitting two huge second-half 3-pointers, and the visiting Panthers (21-7, 9-6 Big East) snapped a two-game skid.

NO. 25 NOTRE DAME 62, CINCY 41: Jerian Grant had 13 points for the host Irish (22-6, 10-5 Big East), who held the Bearcats to 32 percent shooting.

FRAZIER UPDATE: Florida freshman and former Plant High standout Michael Frazier II, who left Saturday's game with a concussion, told that he expects to return for next Saturday's home game against Alabama. He has been ruled out of Tuesday's game at Tennessee.

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