Cody Cousino / Lantern photographer
Nobody knows what the X-factor truly is, but Ohio State freshman Aaron Craft’s tenacious defense and hustle on the court makes him the closest thing the No. 2-ranked OSU men’s basketball team has to it.
The budding point guard has already been in pressure situations.
His 27.1 minutes per game put him behind only seniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty and freshman Jared Sullinger in minutes played for OSU this season.
Fellow Buckeyes say Craft’s poise on the court makes him a strong player.
“The thing about Aaron, he’s so mature for his age,” Diebler said. “He doesn’t play like a freshman.”
Adjusting from high school to college is usually difficult for freshmen, but with the support of his teammates, Craft has successfully made a name for himself at OSU.
“It definitely helps having the teammates’ confidence behind me every time I step up to the free-throw line and trusting me with the ball at the end of the game,” Craft said.
Experience Craft has gained playing at the collegiate level prepared him to be a leader for the Buckeyes. He scored 11 points and had seven assists in OSU’s 67-64 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
For the first 16 games of the season, Craft has averaged 5.5 points, 1.7 steals and 5.1 assists per game. He is leading the team in assists. Though his other numbers might not be staggering, Craft’s effect on his team’s performance extends far beyond the box score.
“You can count on him to … do the right things in games,” Diebler said. “To see someone, at his age, be able to do that everyday is extremely impressive.”
Diebler said Craft’s game pushes his teammates to play at their best.
“This is his first year in college basketball, and he’s doing everything right,” Diebler said. “Why can’t we?”
Over the course of the season, Craft has begun playing more confidently and aggressively, OSU coach Thad Matta said.
“I think Aaron has been playing more aggressive with the basketball, which has been good to see,” Matta said. “He’s been driving; he’s kicking; and he’s not hesitating on his three.”
Craft’s ability to get his hands on the ball late in the game and make clutch plays can be encouraging for OSU fans as the season progresses and Big Ten play continues.
“I mean, you’ve seen games where teams will try to press him and he’s pretty much single-handedly broke the press as a freshman,” Diebler said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Although Craft appears to be cool and collected on the hardwood, he said not everything has come easily.
“It’s definitely a learning process, still, just continue to be confident and poised,” Craft said. “The seniors do a great job of helping me with that.”
Craft said for his team to play successfully against other teams’ varying defensive strategies, every Buckeye needs to play confidently.
“Teams definitely come in with different defensive packages, whether it’s on (Sullinger) or (Lighty) or (Diebler) or whoever,” he said. “You got to be prepared, and everyone has to be confident out there on the floor with the ball.”
The victory over Minnesota improved the Buckeyes’ record to 16-0 this season and 3-0 in the Big Ten.
“It’s good to have him around. I know that because he’s a very tough kid, and he’s always been like that, ever since I’ve known him when he was little,” Diebler said. “He’s going to be a great (point guard) here.”