It didn't take long for Ohio State head coach Thad Matta to realize that Aaron Craft was special. From the moment the point guard arrived on campus in 2010, the Findlay, Ohio native carried himself in a way unlike most college basketball players in recent memory.
A mere 10 games into his senior season, Craft's legacy in Columbus is far from cemented, although he already holds the Buckeyes' all-time record for steals. The senior point guard also enhanced his nearly impeccable reputation on Saturday, recording seven assists in Ohio State's 79-62 win over North Dakota State.
Craft's helping hand moved him to 581 assists for his entire career, and past Jamar Butler for the school's all-time record.
"It's hard to put into words, in my opinion, just in terms of what Aaron has meant to this program, to this university," Matta said. "Anytime that somebody breaks a record, if you're a true sports fan, you sit down and say, 'Okay, let me think about who he just passed.' And you think about all the great players who 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 that he is."
Craft got off to a quick start in his race for the record books, assisting on three baskets as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 13-5 lead. Ohio State stretched its lead to 12 points on an Amir Williams jumper with 4:11 remaining in the first half, but saw its lead cut to five thanks to a 7-1 NDSU run.
The Buckeyes, however, built their biggest lead of the half before the final buzzer went off, going on a 10-2 run thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from LaQuinton Ross and an additional trey from Sam Thompson. It was Thompson's 3-pointer with two seconds remaining before halftime that tied Craft for the most assists in school history, an honor that he credited to his OSU teammates.
"Ever since I've been here, I've had an easy job. I've played with a lot of great players, a lot of great shooters that have done the hard part. I just have to find those guys and put them in a great opportunity to score," Craft said. "Fortunately enough, I've played with a lot of those guys. It's a very humbling experience."
Craft would go onto break the record on the opening play of the second half, assisting on a layup to Ross, who led the Buckeyes with 18 points against the Bison. Matching Ross' total was senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., as Thompson and Marc Loving both added 12 points for the second-ranked and unbeaten Buckeyes.
Ohio State's balanced offensive approach didn't differ from the success that its enjoyed throughout the first nine games of its season, with Saturday marking the fifth consecutive game that the Buckeyes have topped the 50 percent shooting mark. With the nation's top-ranked defense and a steadily improving offense, Ohio State has certainly looked the part of one of the country's top teams to this point in the season, as Matta admitted that he's placed an extra emphasis on the offensive end of the floor this year.
"We have spent more time than you can imagine on shooting the basketball game right now," Matta said. "We've been doing a lot of two-a-days in terms of bringing guys in and shooting the ball ... when you're watching these guys put in the work that they're doing, it's good to see it go in when the lights go in."
The Buckeyes did just that -- and then some -- in the second half, extending their lead to as many as 27 points by the time the final whistle blew. NDSU was paced by forward Marshall Bjorklund, who scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting after a 26-point outing in the Bisons' win over Notre Dame on Wednesday.
With NDSU in its rearview mirror, Ohio State will now turn its attention to its next opponent in the BlackRock Gotham Classic, Delaware, as the Blue Hens will head to Columbus for a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Schottenstein Center on Dec. 18.