Vee Sanford’s shot fell through the net at 2:19 p.m. on the first day of spring, almost 47 years after Don May’s incredible performance against North Carolina in the national semifinals, 30 years and a month after Ed Young hit The Shot against DePaul and 131 days after Jordan Sibert kicked off the season with a November miracle.
For one moment Thursday, and at least until Saturday when they play No. 3 seed Syracuse, the Dayton Flyers captured the attention of an entire nation fixated on March Madness. The first game of the second round ended with Sanford, a senior from Lexington, Ky., driving the right side of the lane and scoring on a bank shot over the head of Ohio State star Aaron Craft with 3.8 seconds remaining.
Craft dribbled to the other end and missed a short jump shot in between four Dayton defenders as the final buzzer sounded. Then pandemonium ensued as the No. 11 seed Flyers and the Flyer Faithful celebrated a 60-59 victory over the No. 6 seed Buckeyes at the First Niagara Center.
“I just thank God and thank Coach (Archie Miller) for trusting me,” Sanford said. “We’ve probably drawn up a play like that and I messed it up previously, but he just kept his trust in me and I’m just thankful that the shot went in.”
It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the victory. Dayton hadn’t beaten Ohio State since 1987, in part because it had only played the Buckeyes once in the previous 25 seasons. No team from Ohio had defeated Ohio State since Toledo in 1998. The Buckeyes hadn’t lost to an Ohio school in the NCAA tournament since it fell to Cincinnati in the 1962 national championship game.
Ohio State had advanced to the Sweet 16 four years in a row. The Flyers, who squeaked into the tournament as a bubble team, were playing in the big dance for the first time in five years.
With minutes to go in a game that featured 15 lead changes and eight ties, every Flyer fan had to be thinking, “This will either be a program-defining victory or a soul-crushing defeat.” Most fans would admit they’re more used to the latter. This will stand as one giant exclamation point of an exception.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dayton senior Matt Kavanaugh said. “It’s what you dream about when you’re a kid. After you watch the Final Four, you see that video. You see the game-winning shots and the celebrations. Now we just realized we’re a part of one. The circumstances, who we were playing, the fact that we hadn’t been here in five years, it’s one for the ages.”
The game came down to two shots — Sanford’s and Craft’s — and that was fitting because this was as tight as games get.
The Flyers made 22-of-49 field goals. The Buckeyes made 24-of-50. The Flyers made 3-of-13 3-pointers. The Buckeyes made 3-of-12. Each team had 28 rebounds and 12 assists. The Flyers had 13 turnovers. The Buckeyes had 14.
Dyshawn Pierre led the Flyers with 12 points. Devin Oliver had 11, and Sanford scored 10.
Craft played a tremendous game for the Buckeyes, scoring 16 points, including a layup with 17 seconds left that would have been the game-winner if not for Sanford.
“Obviously, an incredible finish,”Miller said, “but we’re really proud of how our guys prepared and approached the battle against what we consider an elite team. Both teams played pretty hard. It was back and forth. But at the end of the day, in this tournament, like everybody knows, a few plays here and there have to go your way.”