IOWA CITY — Aaron Craft did an interview with the nice Big Ten Network reporter and playfully shot a towel toward a teammate.
Ohio State’s senior guard had just endured about an hour of taunts from the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd of 15,400. The student section booed every time he touched the ball. He took the abuse and scored a game-high 17 points and recorded game highs with six assists and six steals.
There wasn’t a trace of a finger wag in his demeanor in the postgame of No. 25 Ohio State’s 76-69 victory over the No. 13 Hawkeyes (17-6, 6-4 Big Ten) on Tuesday night.
“Absolutely,” Craft said when asked if he gets that kind of treatment around the Big Ten. “I hope it doesn’t affect me. I do my best to block it out. It was intense today, they got after it a little bit. You just do your best to block it out.”
And then, just as competitive players are apt to do, Craft threw in the dagger.
“The best way to get back at them is to make them go home quiet like we did tonight,” he said.
The Buckeyes (18-5, 5-5) heard the noise after the Hawkeyes walked off the Value City Arena court with an 84-74 victory on Jan. 12. Ohio State was No. 3 going into that game and proceeded to fall off the face of the planet. Craft said what the Buckeyes drew some motivation out of the Hawkeyes’ postgame bravado.
“We try to do our best to put everything behind us, but we obviously remember what happened,” said Craft, who was held to six points, six assists and coughed up six turnovers in the first game against Iowa. “Some of the things they said after the game and things like that.”
They said? They being the Hawkeyes, of course.
“They were talking about how they were the tougher team,” Craft said. “Not that that’s anything surprising. I think they were the first game, but hearing it I think brings it out in you.”
Craft was a consistent factor for the Buckeyes. Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. pushed OSU at the beginning of the second half, scoring eight of his 12 points in the first four minutes to give the Buckeyes a 39-36 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Smith and Shannon Scott combined to score 22 of their 23 points in the second half.
Smith scored just two points in OSU’s victory at Wisconsin on Saturday. Scott hadn’t broken double figures in seven games. Ohio State needed them, and coach Thad Matta wasn’t shy about letting them know it when OSU trailed 33-31 at halftime.
“I told both he and Shannon at halftime to ‘urinate a drop,’ ” Matta said. “They had to give us something, and to their credit, both guys did a tremendous job stepping up and making plays.”
With Smith and Scott engaged, Craft went into a defensive mode against Devyn Marble, Iowa’s top scorer. Marble finished 4 of 11 from the field and with 10 points. Ohio State gave up the perimeter to defend the lane, and Iowa couldn’t make it pay, shooting just 3 of 20 from the 3-point arc.
Even with that shooting, the Carver-Hawkeye crowd kept its boos directed at Craft.
“Yeah, probably,” Matta said when asked if Craft gets that treatment around the Big Ten. “That ignites him. If they ever spent 30 seconds with the kid, they’d feel bad that they did, because he’s the greatest human being I’ve ever met.”
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