DAYTON, Ohio - The NCAA Tournament had been lacking a true buzzer beater until Sunday afternoon when Aaron Craft's three-point shot punched Ohio State's ticket to the Sweet 16 and Los Angeles with a 78-75 win over Iowa State in the West Region. Craft ended the game with 18 points but those three were the ones that mattered most, especially after Craft missed the front end of two one-and-one free throw opportunities.
Deshaun Thomas had 22 points for Ohio State and LaQuinton Ross had 17 off of the bench. Korie Lucious had 19 points and Will Clyburn had 17 in a losing effort for the Cyclones.
"I had LaQuinton's screen and some back side action with Deshaun, obviously, coming off a couple, wanted to get him open, get him a shot," Craft said. "They switched, I got their biggest guy on me, made a read, and fortunately enough, it went in."
The Buckeyes ran up to a 13-point lead in the second half but hot shooting from the Cyclones and three straight turnovers by the Buckeyes saw the lead evaporate as Lucious hit a free throw after a Thomas foul on a driving lay-up. The two teams sat tied up at 69 points a piece with less than four minutes to go and the sellout crowd at the University of Dayton was stunned.
Both of Craft's missed free throws happened during the span of the 13-0 run by Iowa State.
"I was just trying to stay as focused and poised," Craft added. "I did some things down the stretch I don't normally do. Missed some shots and missed some free throws. We had confidence in about three or four guys at the end that could take a shot. This game just happened to be me, and I was able to knock it down."
There was a controversial call that happened with the Cyclones up 75-74 when Clyburn drove and was called for a charge on Craft and had a basket that would have put ISU up by three with a free throw pending. Replays appeared to show that Craft's foot might have been touching the restricted semi-circle. The NCAA spoke about that call after the game.
"I spoke with the official, and he determined the defender established legal guard position outside of the restricted area prior to the offensive player leaving the floor to start his shot," NCAA National Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating John Adams said. "When asked, the official said he did not see the defender's foot over the restricted areal line. By rule, this is not a reviewable play."
Craft was isolated on Ohio State's final possession of the game and was able to launch his shot over Georges Niang, a player that he was separated from after a little skirmish after a whistle earlier in the game with 0.5 seconds left in the game.
The play was not initially drawn up for Craft to take the shot and it seemed as if the Buckeyes would be looking at Thomas to be the hero but the team identified the mismatch and the four other Buckeyes were at the baseline ready to crash the boards if a rebound came off as the Buckeyes were trying to avoid overtime and make it to their fourth straight Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Everything would have been much different if not for a clutch defensive play by Thomas, a player who has not been normally known for his defense. He stepped in the way of an ISU pass and was able to tip the ball over to Sam Thompson and allowed the Buckeyes a chance to play for the final shot.
The game winner was actually not Ohio State's first attempt as Craft missed a shot with 29 seconds left that was tipped out of bounds by Iowa State and gave the Buckeyes the final shot with the shot clock turned off.
"I took right before that felt pretty good," Craft said. "I thought I could make the next one, and was able to do so."
Thad Matta was all smiles in the post game press conference and knew that his team had to fight until the very end to secure the win and advance.
"I think the thing I'm most proud of is the Ohio State University is the only team in college basketball that we're going to our fourth straight Sweet 16," Matta said. "With this basketball team, that was something that we had talked about coming into the tournament."
Iowa State proved to be everything that was advertised with the long distance shooting and went a blistering 12-25 from beyond the arc.
Many fans will have memories of Ron Lewis' three pointer at the end of regulation against Xavier to force overtime in Lexington (Ky.) and ultimately launched Ohio State to the Championship game against Florida in Atlanta, which strangely enough is where the Final Four is in 2013.
Ohio State is now winners of 10 straight games since losing in Madison (Wis.) and are one of the nation's hottest teams. The Buckeyes will make the short bus ride back to Columbus to hit the books and practice before heading to Los Angeles to take on the No. 6 seeded Arizona Wildcats and a match-up with former assistant and good friend, Sean Miller.