Vee Sanford's running jump shot with 3.8 seconds to play in regulation lifted the No. 11 Dayton Flyers to a 60-59 victory over the sixth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y. Thursday.
Sanford worked a few seconds off the clock by dribbling near the center circle before he got a step on Ohio State guard Aaron Craft and banked in a shot from the right of the free-throw lane.
"I wasn't nervous," Sanford said of the final shot. "I just thank God and thank coach for trusting me. We've probably drawn up a play similarly and I missed it previously, but he just kept his trust in me and I'm thankful the shot went in.
"(Coach) wanted me to go right to kind of just open up the floor because that's my strength, and if I had an opportunity to get to the basket, I have a high percentage of hitting the shot. It was a well drawn up play, and I'm just thankful I was able to execute it."
Playing in what would be his last game at Ohio State, Craft lamented giving up Sanford's shot, and missing a potential game-winner of his own at the buzzer.
"This is the fourth game-winner hit on me in my time here," Craft recalled. "I can't change it. Obviously, you want it to end differently, but these guys still have time. The best thing that we can do is just move forward.
"(You've) got to give Dayton a lot of credit. Obviously, he made a big shot down the stretch. They made the last punch, and we couldn't."
With the Flyers down by one point with 10.8 seconds left after Craft made a driving reverse layup, coach Archie Miller called a timeout. At that moment, Miller put the ball in Sanford's hands and asked the senior guard to make a shot despite him having hit only three of 10 in the game before the final possession.
"He's the guy that can get the shot," Miller said of Sanford. "He's the guy that can get the shot up. He's been in that situation a lot for us. Most people who have watched us play have seen him come down that right lane line probably 20 times this season and banked that banker right off the glass.
"I was worried about him getting bottled up. We wanted to get him a lane where maybe he could get it downhill. Vee was able, with the first step, to get the first dribble by him. That was a big key in the other play.
"Vee made that shot a lot. He's terrific inside of 15, 16 feet making those type of shots. We have a lot of confidence in him. He's the one guy we can call his number, and he can get one."
Before Sanford could make the eventual game-winning shot, forward Dyshawn Pierre had to convert all three free-throw attempts to give Dayton a one-point lead with 26 seconds to play in regulation.
Those free throws turned a 57-55 deficit into a 58-57 Flyers advantage.
"I just tried to stay calm, stay focused, and I knew I had to make those free throws for the team, and luckily, I did," said Pierre, who was 79 of 120 from the free-throw line prior to Thursday's game.
Sanford's heroics and Pierre's calm under pressure were two of the many moments where Dayton proved to be mentally tough, regardless of the challenges the players faced against Ohio State.
After the Flyers built a 43-35 lead when Kendall Pollard made a layup with 13:42 to play in the second half, Ohio State went on a 10-0 run over the next three minutes.
"At the end of the day, we knew that if we would stay together, we'd be there at the end of the game," Pierre said. "Luckily, with Vee's shot, a tough shot, we were able to pull it out."
Sanford added, "We were just trying to stay positive. Our main thing is, throughout a game, and they're a really good team, good teams are going to go on runs. The main thing is just to hold our composure and handle it. I feel like we did that pretty well."