Four days ago, Aaron Craft had the ball in the final seconds and the game tied against Iowa State, and Craft waved off leading scorer Deshaun Thomas.
On Thursday night, in the same scenario against Arizona, Craft gave it up this time. Only he surrendered to LaQuinton Ross, a player who did not log one minute in the NCAA tournament last season.
Ross nailed a deep three from the wing, Ohio State survived again, 73-70, and Thomas and the Buckeyes are on the brink of returning to the Final Four with a win on Saturday over Wichita State.
A couple months ago, Thomas and the Buckeyes could have used a cool nickname like "Danny and the Miracles." Deshaun and the Dependables? Deshaun and the Defenders?
The Buckeyes had one great scorer (Thomas), one great pest (Craft) and a solid team that didn't give the impression it was capable of being much more than just solid. This felt like a Sweet 16 team unless Thomas had a tournament for the ages.
If you hit snooze from January to March, you may have missed that Thomas got some help.
In the last two games, it has been Ross, who scored 17 apiece in both games. He scored 14 of his 17 points in the final eight minutes against the Wildcats, as Thomas didn't attempt a field goal.
Thad Matta has built a program at Ohio State, and this is what the best teams in the country do.
At places like Kentucky, the Wildcats don't rebuild; they reload. (How did that work out this season?)
At Ohio State, the Buckeyes haven't rebuilt either. They're just carrying on the tradition with guys who were understudies before.
Ross averaged 2.0 points per game and played in nine games last season. Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott both averaged 10.6 minutes per game. Starting big man Amir Williams played behind Jared Sullinger and averaged 6.6 minutes.
Now they're key figures on a team that is close to its second straight Final Four and has won 11 straight games.
Craft still sets the tone with unrelenting pressure, but like Thomas, he has plenty of help.
At one point midway through the second half, Craft grabbed a rebound and immediately lost his dribble. The ball wound up in Arizona big man Brandon Ashley's hands. Most teams get an easy bucket off a play like this, but the Buckeyes had Craft's back. They forced Kevin Parrom into a miss, Evan Ravenel got the rebound, passed it up to Scott and Scott and Smith played catch before Scott finished off the play with a layup.
And for a half on Thursday, the Buckeyes were a throwback to their earlier version of Deshaun and the Defenders. Only they didn't play their usual defense—Matta told TBS at the half that they defended selfishly—but Thomas did keep them in the game by finding a way, as he always does, to get buckets. Thomas had 16 points at halftime and the Buckeyes trailed by four.
Thomas only had to score four in the second half, and not once has he had to hit the big shot to keep his team's season going.
Eventually, you would think Thomas will get that moment. For now, he should be happy he has some help.
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