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Aaron Craft’s offensive explosion keys Ohio State win over MSU

Feb 24, 2013, 7:36 PM EDT

Aaron Craft, Keith Appling

No. 18 Ohio State entered this week with plenty of question marks, but after running over Minnesota on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes knocked off No. 4 Michigan State at home on Sunday afternoon, 68-60.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Buckeyes look like they’re once again in the hunt for a top four seed in the NCAA tournament.

That’s what happens when you’ve notched wins over two of the top ten teams in the country and can claim four wins over the RPI top 25.

Yes, I know the Buckeyes have just a 4-7 record against the top 50, but when you take a closer look at those losses, there’s really not all that much to be ashamed of. They lost to Indiana and Kansas at home. They lost at Duke, at Michigan and at Michigan State. Their worst loss of the season? On the road against Wisconsin or on the road against Illinois. How many teams can boast a resume like that?

But there’s more to Sunday’s win than a simple resume-booster.

Ohio State earned this win despite what was more-or-less a no-show performance from Deshaun Thomas. Yes, he finished with 14 points, but that came on 4-16 shooting. He hit a couple of shots in Ohio State’s game-changing, 26-7 run at the start of the second half, but that run — and Ohio State’s entire second half turnaround — was keyed by Aaron Craft. The all-american point guard not only finished with 21 points (a career-high and more than he scored in the last three games combined) and six assists, he forced Michigan State point guard Keith Appling into yet another horrendous offensive performance.

He was tremendous on both ends.

But the real takeaway here is that Ohio State not only picked up one of their most important wins of the season, they did so in a game in which their leading scorer never got on track offensively. The knock on the Buckeyes all season long as been their reliance on Thomas as an offensive option, and while guys like LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith and Shannon Scott have had big games, the consistency of the supporting cast simply has not been there this year.

Trying to survive without Thomas playing well is not a smart move for Thad Matta’s club, but it has to be comforting for Ohio State to know that they can compete with anyone in the country — at least on their home floor — on nights when Thomas is off.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.