One day before No. 2 Ohio State hosted Penn State, the freshman guard said he would approach the opportunity to square off against two-time all-Big Ten guard Talor Battle as he would going against any average player.
All Craft did was score a career-high 19 points, dish out seven assists while committing just one turnover and help limit Battle to 15 points on 5-for-17 shooting as the Buckeyes held on for a 69-66 victory against the visiting Nittany Lions.
After keeping one of the nation's elite guards in check for nearly the entire game, Craft had to make one more play to secure the victory. The Buckeyes had just regained the lead at 69-66 with 13.2 seconds remaining thanks to the second consecutive three-point play from freshman Jared Sullinger and the Nittany Lions had time for one final shot.
With Battle dribbling the ball at the top of the circle, Craft stared straight at him. Dribbling to his left with the click ticking under four seconds, Battle tried to find daylight along the left perimeter. Finding none and in danger of no longer getting a shot off, the veteran stopped and fired with Craft draped all over him.
The shot drew nothing but air and the first sellout crowd at Value City Arena this season could finally exhale and celebrate.
"I thought Aaron really did a tremendous job of sticking with (Battle)," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "Aaron today was really, really special, effective on both sides of the basketball."
Battle, who entered the game averaging a league-leading 20.9 points, went 1 for 10 from three-point range with Craft draped on him for nearly the entire night. He did not get the shot he was hoping for on the final possession.
"That's a situation where you can only get one shot," Battle said. "You can only do so much, so we tried to run a play we always run and I came off and the kid deflected it and by the time I gained control of the ball I looked up at the clock and there were 3 seconds so I didn't have time to rock the kid and try to get off a clean shot.
"I had to step through and it was not a very good look."
Craft downplayed his own efforts in containing Battle.
"I might have been the reason, I might not have, but we did a great job defending him as a team," Craft said of frustrating Battle. "We knew that he was going to have to have a really good game. As he goes, they go. We did a great job as a team."
The freshman added that he felt Battle appeared frustrated because his jumper was not falling, not because of his own defensive efforts.
"He's a great player," the freshman said. "I talked to him a little bit throughout the game. He does a great job of running off screens. Probably one of the best players we played all year with the ways that he can score. He had an off shooting night and we benefited from that."
He had help from the team's most productive player, however. In a game that featured four ties or lead changes in the final three minutes, OSU freshman Jared Sullinger helped the Buckeyes close the deal.
The Nittany Lions (10-7, 3-3 Big Ten) knotted the score twice in the final 1:12. Each time, Sullinger responded with a three-point play to put his team back on top. The first came with 59.8 seconds left after PSU had pulled even at 63 on a pair of Battle free throws but the clincher nearly did not happen.
PSU's David Jackson – who finished with a team-high 19 points – corralled his own offensive rebound and drew contact on the put-back. Once he completed the three-point play, time was called and the Buckeyes (18-0, 5-0) drew up their plan.
Once again, it involved getting the ball to Sullinger down low. Senior guard Jon Diebler first entry pass along the right wing was tipped by Battle, but it eventually reached the freshman. Not seeing an opportunity with the clock inching below 20 seconds, he kicked it back out to Diebler.
The senior tried again, and this time Sullinger felt PSU's Billy Oliver on his right hip. Spinning left, the forward drove the lane and put up a right-handed shot, drawing contact as the ball went through the rim.
Both three-point-plays were made possible by Craft's earlier success from behind the arc. His 4-for-6 performance from behind the arc marked two career highs for the freshman.
"They stopped doubling because obviously he went (off)," Sullinger said. "I was kicking out because they were doubling (me) off Craft. They stopped doubling because obviously he went 4 for 6 from the three point line. He was hot tonight. They stopped doubling."
Sullinger also finished with 19 points and added five assists while committing just one turnover. Together they combined for 38 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and two turnovers.
"(Craft) and Jared obviously didn't play like freshman today, that's for sure," Matta said. "(John) Stockton and (Karl) Malone out there tonight, they had it going on."
The Nittany Lions led for most of the first half, twice building a lead as high as five points in the final six minutes on three-pointers. Each time, however, the Buckeyes immediately answered with treys of their own to immediately cut the deficit back to two.
OSU did not help its cause from the charity stripe, connecting on six of 10 attempts. The Buckeyes also misfired on a handful of high-percentage shots from inside the paint. PSU went 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) from the floor in the first half.
The primary offensive spark for the Buckeyes in the half was Craft. When he was inserted to the game at the 15:24 mark, the score was knotted at four. At the next media timeout 4:37 later, OSU held a 14-13 lead thanks in part to a pair of treys from the freshman.
The Buckeyes were finally able to assert control of the game in the opening minutes of the second half, opening with a 12-2 run. The Nittany Lions turned the ball over on their first two possessions of the stanza and badly misfired with the shot clock winding down on their next trip down the court. OSU countered with treys from Diebler and junior guard William Buford.
After a pair of free throws from PSU's Tim Frazier, OSU completed the run with a trey from Craft and a three-point play from Sullinger that made it 44-34 with 16:36 left.
"Their kids made some plays down the stretch to put the thing away," PSU head coach Ed DeChellis said. "We gave ourselves a chance. I thought we played well enough to win. They just made one more play than we did."