The hero before the hero was Dyshawn Pierre.
Dayton Flyer Vee Sanford may have earned a spot in the “One Shining Moment” montage by hitting the game-winning shot with 3.8 seconds left Thursday against Ohio State, but he wouldn’t have had the chance if the sophomore forward Pierre hadn’t made three free throws with 27 seconds remaining.
The No. 11-seeded Flyers beat No. 6 seed Ohio State 60-59 at the First Niagara Center by scoring five points in the last 30 seconds. They trailed 57-55 when Pierre was fouled by Ohio State’s Shannon Scott while shooting a 3-pointer from the corner. Devin Oliver had missed two free throws 44 seconds earlier. Now Pierre had to make at least two to tie.
“I knew that I had to make the free throws,” Pierre said. “I wasn’t really trying to think about anything else but making the free throws. I knew there were a lot of people around me. I tried to cancel out all the noise. I knocked down one, and I felt comfortable.”
Oliver’s misses: A 78-percent free-throw shooter, Oliver was 15-of-15 at the line in a five-game stretch late in the season. He hit four straight free throws in the final 12 seconds to beat Saint Bonaventure on the road in February.
There’s no doubt if the Dayton Flyers had lost with Oliver missing two free throws in a tie game with 1:11 to go, he would have felt the pain forever.
“I gave Dyshawn a big, old hug,” Oliver said. “He saved my butt. … I get to sleep a little bit lighter tonight instead of having that what-if.”
Kavanaugh’s game: The hero before the hero before the hero was senior center Matt Kavanaugh. He was the Flyers’ star in the first half with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. He didn’t score in the second half and took only one shot, but he scored above his season average of 5.5 points and every basket counted big.
“In the first half, I was able to capitalize on some switching opportunities,” Kavanaugh said. “I had a couple good rolls to the basket, and the guards were able to find me on some open cuts to the hoop. In the second half, they switched their lineup and went small so it was a little more of a challenge for me to stay on the court.”
Sibert’s revenge: Dayton junior guard Jordan Sibert is 1-0 against his former team. He played his first two seasons at Ohio State before transferring to Dayton and sitting out last season. This victory has extra meaning for him.
“It’s amazing,” Sibert said. “I just told Vee he doesn’t know what he did for me. To be able to win against my former team and for my teammates to play so hard, it was a blessing.”
Sibert scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. The Flyers had a turnover and three missed shots in the first two minutes before Sibert hit a 3-pointer to get them on the board at the 17:23 mark of the first half. He made the shot right in front of the Ohio State bench and said something to his former team before running back up the court.
“Shannon (Scott) told me to miss for him,” Sibert said. “I told him I couldn’t do that.”
Next game: The Flyers (24-10) will play No. 3 seed Syracuse for just the third time in their history on Saturday at a time to be announced. The Orangemen (28-5) routed No. 14 seed Western Michigan 77-53 in the second game in Buffalo on Thursday.
Dayton beat Syracuse 76-67 at UD Arena on Nov. 28, 1977, the last time they played. One season earlier, Syracuse won 66-53 at the Manley Fieldhouse.