DAYTON, Ohio -- Quick thoughts on Ohio State's 78-75 win over Iowa State.
Overview: In a matchup between one of the nation's best and most entertaining offenses, and one of the nation's most brutal and most finely tuned defenses, it was only fitting the game came down to the final possession.
And then Aaron Craft redeemed himself.
The Buckeyes and their point guard survived a sweaty-palmed nightmare of a second half, and a flurry of huge plays in a 13-point Iowa State comeback, in time to allow Craft to back up his defender with the clock winding and the game tied at 75. Rather than driving, Craft took a 3 -- it looked like another in a series of uncharacteristically poor decisions -- but it was true, it splashed, and Craft held up his hand on the follow-through as the rest of his teammates went nuts.
Ohio State had survived.
Turning point: Even at the 11:46 mark in the second half, Ohio State still couldn't pull away -- Tyrus McGee made a brilliant drop-off to Melvin Ejim, who eventually finished with a dunk, and Iowa State closed yet another lead to just one point, 52-51. After a Thad Matta timeout, Ohio State sorted through ISU's 2-3 zone and found Deshaun Thomas for a corner 3. The next four OSU possessions went like this: A LaQuinton Ross fast-break layup (thanks to a Thomas steal), Ross for 3, two Ross free throws, and yet another Ross 3. By the time it was over, the Buckeyes led 65-53.
It looked like Ohio State was ready to hammer home yet another win, their 10th straight since mid-February … which is precisely when Iowa State came alive once more. Craft turned the ball over twice and missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones, and Iowa State recovered with a trademark flurry of baskets -- two 3s, a McGee layup, and a Korie Lucious foul and finish that tied the game at 69 with 3:53 left to play.
The game swung in every direction in the final moments -- including a pivotal and questionable charge call against ISU -- and we didn't have our outcome until Craft wound the final 30 seconds to their last possible daylight before making the 3 that will likely become his signature play as an Ohio State Buckeye.
Key player: Ross. Were it not for Ross' flurry of scores in the second half -- he provided the secondary scoring Ohio State desperately needs -- it's not unfair to think the Cyclones' eventual spurt would have put Ohio State in a hole from which they couldn't have recovered. Ross finished with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3.
Key stat: The Cyclones made just 11 2-point field goals on the day but compensated by hitting 12 of their 25 3-point field goal attempts -- by far the best indication that this was a game they could -- if not should -- have won. Ohio State just … survived. What can you do?
What's next: The Buckeyes avoid being added to the list of West Region favorites undone by double-digit seeds and now look out on a comparably wide-open path to the Final Four when they travel to Los Angeles Thursday. Iowa State ends its second straight tournament in the second round, no doubt disappointed but also encouraged about the program's bright and sure to be entertaining future under third-year coach Fred Hoiberg.