Craft, Buckeyes take advantage of weary Duke in decisive victory
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Immediate question: Was Ohio State that good or was Duke that bad?
Long-term question: Is Ohio State really that good, and is Duke really that bad?
Answer: Not really.
The truth is, there's not much that can be learned from a 22-point beatdown. "We've had our butts kicked, and we've kicked some butt," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Right now my butt is sore." My brain's sore trying to riddle a few salient lessons from this massacre. Here's what we learned tonight:
Craft is certainly lucky to be surrounded by so much talent. As Krzyzewski put it, "part of being a good point guard is having good players you can point-guard for." But Craft also thinks the game at a very high level. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said that at one point, when he warned Craft he had three fouls, Craft corrected him and said he only had two. (Matta had to check with his assistants to see if Craft was right. He was.) Last Friday against Valparaiso, Craft told Matta that he should stop the game because a teammate had just made a three but the refs only credited him for a two. (Matta asked the refs to check the monitor to see if Craft was right. He was.) Matta also said he lets Craft pretty much decide how many minutes he's capable of playing each game. He played a season-high 38 on Tuesday night and didn't seem the least bit tired.
There may be other point guards who will have a brighter NBA future. But if I could pick one point guard to win a college basketball game tomorrow night, I would pick Craft. I have a feeling I'm not alone.
Not only did the Blue Devils play three games in three days at the Maui Invitational, they jammed in four games before they left because the school wanted to ensure Krzyzewski would break Bob Knight's alltime wins record on the mainland. Flying home, then flying out to play a road game at 9:30 p.m. against the No. 2 team in the country is a brutal turnaround. "We didn't handle that well," Coach K said. "When you play on the road, you have to be juiced up. Even if we were, we might not have won, but [the schedule] did have a bearing."
Matta agreed. When he was told that Krzyzewski thought the schedule had left his guys out of gas, Matta quipped, "Now will you guys stop asking me why we don't go to Maui?"
Matta wasn't sure who would guard whom, so he gave all of his players a DVD of all of Duke's guards and let them know they should be ready to check any of them. He started with 6-4 sophomore Lenzelle Smith on Rivers, and throughout the game Matta rotated his batch of long-armed swingmen (William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel) on to Duke's perimeter snipers. Aside from the occasional burst from Rivers, the Devils were silenced. Mission accomplished.
Thomas had a typically up-and-down freshman season a year ago. He started off with a blast, hanging 24 points on North Carolina A&T in the season-opener. From there, he mostly disappeared into the background, but he was front and center Tuesday night -- especially at the end of the first half when he scored the team's final nine points to send them into the locker room up 19. He finished with 18 points (on 8-for-12 shooting) and five rebounds in 28 minutes. That's what you call a good night's work.
Thomas, like many of his young Buckeye teammates, still has some growing up to do. After he turned in a lackluster effort at the start of the Valparaiso game, Matta told him at halftime, "I had a feeling before the game you weren't ready to play." But even a great defensive team can only plug so many dikes. If your top priority is holding down Sullinger, and if your second priority is stopping Craft's penetration, and your third is keeping Buford off the glass ... well, the last thing you need is Thomas, who is also a lockdown defender, going off for 18 points. "You hope he keeps doing this," Matta said. "We're going to keep working him, that's for sure."