On the cusp of making Ohio State basketball history, Aaron Craft made it look effortless.
The Buckeye senior guard passed Jamar Butler for the most assists in program history early in the second half of OSU’s 79-62 victory against North Dakota State Saturday. The assist was No. 580 for Craft’s career.
Craft entered the game needing five assists to tie Butler at 579, then set the new record on his team’s first possession of the second half when he found junior forward LaQuinton Ross wide open under the basket for a score.
“It’s a very humbling experience … we’ll have a lot of time to think about it when I get older. By the time I’m a grandfather it’ll probably be about 800 assists in my career,” Craft said after the win. “It’s great to think about right now, but we still have work to be done this year and hopefully we can keep getting better.”
Craft finished the game with seven assists to go along with six points. OSU coach Thad Matta said Craft is unlike any other player he’s coached.
“It’s hard to put into words, in my opinion, in terms of what Aaron has meant to this program, to this university,” Matta said following the win. “I think anytime that somebody breaks a record, if you’re a true sports fan, you sit down and say, ‘OK, let me think about who he just passed.’ And you think about all the great players that have played at this university. for him to be the leader in two: steals and assists. I think it tells you just the type of basketball player he is. Happy for him.”
Four Buckeyes — junior forward Sam Thompson and Ross, senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and freshman forward Marc Loving — all finished the win against the Bison in double figures scoring. The Buckeyes shot 52.9 percent from the field in the game, and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
OSU (10-0, 0-0) received one first place vote in the most recent USA TODAY Coaches Poll. That one coach was North Dakota State’s Saul Phillips, who said he “didn’t change his mind” after playing the Buckeyes.
“They shot the ball extremely well, they executed extremely well … they’re a very good team, they’re very well coached,” Phillips said. “I was up all night a couple weeks ago trying to find a weakness and I realized that they really don’t have a lot.”
Phillips singled out Craft in his postgame remarks as well.
“Craft is such a unique player in that he can dominate a game and shoot five times and go two-for-five,” Phillips said. “There aren’t many like him out there.”
Smith Jr., the only other OSU senior, said playing with Craft makes things “a lot easier.”
“You don’t have to worry about when your next shot’s coming or try to force up shots,” Smith Jr. said after the win. “You kind of just wait and sit and you know Aaron’s going to find you and you have your feet ready and your hands ready and you shoot the ball.”
Craft said that shooter-passer relationship helped him break the record against the Bison (7-4, 0-0).
“Ever since I’ve been here I’ve had the easy job. I’ve played with a lot of great players, with a lot of great shooters that have done the hard part,” Craft said. “I just gotta find those guys and put them in a great opportunity to score and fortunately enough I’ve played with a lot of those guys.”
Up next, the Buckeyes are set to take on the Delaware Blue Hens (5-4, 0-0) Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.