Dayton Flyers celebrate after beating Ohio State Buckeyes in the men’s college basketball game during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at First Niagara Center. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Hoffman)
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Senior guard Vee Sanford’s layup with 3.8 seconds remaining lifted the Dayton Flyers, the No. 11 seed in the South Region, to a 60-59 victory over No. 6 Ohio State at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
Dayton (24-10) emerges from the Battle of Ohio second round victory to face No. 3 seed Syracuse or No. 14 Western Michigan in the third round Saturday in Buffalo.
“(Coach Archie Miller) told me to go to the hole, and the floor opened up and I saw it,” Sanford said. “At the end of the day, it’s the same game whether you’re playing in the backyard or the NCAA Tournament.
“I didn’t want that to be the last game for me or the other seniors,” Sanford added.
With the score tied at 55, Dayton’s Devin Oliver missed a pair of free throws. Sam Thompson gave the Buckeyes (25-10) the lead with a floater in the paint, but Ohio State’s Shannon Scott fouled Dyshawn Pierre on a 3-point attempt with 26.3 seconds remaining. Pierre made all three foul shots, giving the Flyers a 58-57 advantage.
Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, a senior who didn’t want his career to end with an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, answered with an athletic layup to make it 59-58 with 15.5 seconds remaining.
But Sanford’s drive against Craft made it 60-59, and Craft’s full-speed runner at the buzzer rolled around the rim and out as Dayton won bragging rights for Ohio. Dayton and Ohio State are separated by only 70 miles on Interstate 70.
“A lot of people are going to make a big case about it being (Ohio State coach) Thad Matta or it being Ohio State, but you advance in the NCAA Tournament, that’s hard,” said Miller. “That’s really hard. It’s hard to get here, and it’s hard to advance. So it’s always a good thing.”
A disappointed Craft remained on his back as the Flyers rushed the court and piled in celebration near midcourt.
“I just wanted to do everything I could to help our team win, and down the stretch I couldn’t do that today,” Craft said. “I can take the blame for that.
“This is the fourth game-winner hit on me in my time here,” Craft continued. “I can’t change it. Obviously, you want it to end differently, but these guys (his teammates) still have time.”
Matta praised Sanford for making a difficult shot and said he wouldn’t have wanted any other player defending the potential game-winner.
“Honestly, me telling (Craft) how to play defense would be like me telling him how to build a rocket ship,” Matta said. “I’ll live and die with that kid any day of the year of what he’s going to do defensively.”
Pierre led a balanced Flyers attack with 12 points and added eight rebounds, while Thompson paced Ohio State with 18 points and Craft added 16.
The Flyers led 33-30 at halftime and boosted their lead to 43-35 early in the second half. But led by junior forward Thompson, the Buckeyes went on a 10-0 tear to take their first lead of the second half, 45-43. Thompson scored eight points in that run on two dunks and two more baskets in the paint.
“We were just staying with our game plan, just staying together,” Pierce said when asked how the Flyers withstood Ohio State’s second-half surge. “At the end of the day, we knew that if we stayed together, that we’d be there at the end of the game. Luckily, with Vee’s tough shot, we were able to pull it out.”
Dayton regained the lead, 55-52, after Jordan Sibert’s two free throws following a flagrant foul call on Craft. But the Buckeyes tied the score at 55 on Craft’s 3-point play.
The Buckeyes raced out to a 5-0 lead at the start, but Oliver’s dunk and 3-pointer highlighted an 11-2 Dayton run that gave the Flyers a 13-9 lead.
Ohio State answered with a 10-2 run led by Craft’s 3-point play and pair of free throws. Pierce’s 3-pointer sparked a 10-2 Dayton run near the end of the half as the Flyers regained the lead.
The Buckeyes were slotted No. 6 in the South Region after losing to arch rival Michigan, 72-69, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State tied for fifth in the Big Ten in the regular season.
NOTES: The Buckeyes lead the series, 6-4. Before Thursday, their most recent game was Ohio State’s 74-63 win over the Flyers in the quarterfinals of the 2008 NIT. … For the first time in five years, Ohio State entered the field below a No. 2 seed. …Dayton is making its 15th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2009. The Flyers were the national runner-up in 1967. … Dayton is 23-11 in the last seven years against teams from the power conferences.