BUFFALO, N.Y. — When the last game had ended and an often-maddening 35-game season was over, Ohio State coach Thad Matta still didn’t have the answer.
“I wish,” he said. “I would have used it about a month ago.”
No need to search anymore.
Living down to their reputation by once again letting an underdog hang around until their backs were to the wall, the Buckeyes ran out of time once and for all yesterday — and Aaron Craft saw his career end unceremoniously — in a 60-59 upset loss to Dayton in the second round of the NCAA tournament South Regional at the First Niagara Center.
“They wanted it more than us,” said Sam Thompson, who led Ohio State with 18 points. “They came out and played like a team that was playing in the NCAA tournament to save their season. We didn’t. That’s the result you get.”
Vee Sanford’s driving bank shot over Craft with 3.8 seconds left, and Craft’s missed runner at the final horn, were the difference in a game in which the teams were not separated by more than three points in the final 11:41.
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“I should have slapped it out of his hand,” Craft said. “There are a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas right now.”
After Craft’s driving layup put Ohio State ahead 59-58, Dayton coach Archie Miller called a timeout with 10.8 seconds left and isolated Sanford, 2 inches taller than Craft, at the top of the key against the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
“Craft is a great defender, but the door was wide open when the floor was cleared,” Sanford said. “I just felt like me going right … I had a hot chance of hitting a floater off the backboard.”
Dyshawn Pierre scored 12 points, Devin Oliver 11 and Sanford 10 to lead Dayton (24-10). The 11th-seeded Flyers advanced to a third-round game on Saturday against third-seeded Syracuse, a 77-53 winner over Western Michigan.
Craft added 16 points for sixth-seeded Ohio State (25-10). But the Buckeyes’ leading scorer, LaQuinton Ross, was limited to 10 by a Dayton defense that crowded him in the paint without putting him on the free-throw line.
It was just the second time in 26 years the Ohio schools have played, and Dayton’s first victory over the Buckeyes since 1987. It was Ohio State’s first NCAA loss to another Ohio team since the 1962 national championship game against Cincinnati.
The game was the Buckeyes’ ninth decided by four points or less this season, and the ninth time in their 10 losses that they led in the second half or overtime, a fact Matta cited throughout the season as evidence his team lacked consistent effort and execution.
Why is the question no one ever answered.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Craft said. “That was one of the tougher things to get across to people.”
“My time’s done now. It’s on these guys to learn from how this season’s been, how hard it’s been, how difficult we’ve made it on ourselves at times.”
Ohio State trailed 43-35 before Matta benched center Amir Williams with 12:52 left and went with a smaller lineup. Dayton had turnovers on five of its next six possessions and the Buckeyes took the lead with a 10-0 run.
But Dayton settled down and the game was back-and-forth to the finish.
“We had a tendency to make games closer than what they should be,” said Lenzelle Smith Jr., whose Ohio State career also ended with the loss. “Sometimes it seemed like we’d get to a point where we liked to play the catch-up game, the chase.”
Why? We likely will never know.