BUFFALO, N.Y. — Aaron Craft’s career at Ohio State ended with a thud.
The senior guard was left lying on his back in the paint looking up toward the rafters after his driving 10-foot jumper rolled off the rim, sealing 11th-seeded Dayton’s 60-59 victory over the sixth-seeded Buckeyes in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
“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.”
Craft finished with 16 points and four steals, upping his Big Ten-record total to 337. But he couldn’t steal away a win in what became the Buckeyes’ earliest tournament exit since a first-round 74-72 OT loss to Siena in 2009.
Vee Sanford hit a layup with 3.8 seconds left to seal the win for Dayton (24-10) in a showdown of Ohio schools separated by just 75 miles.
The basket came some 12 seconds after Craft had put the Buckeyes ahead by making a reverse layup.
It just so happened that Sanford scored by getting a step around Craft, a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year.
“There’s so many things that are going through my mind right now that I wish could have gone differently, but they didn’t,” Craft said. “He made a big-time play, and we couldn’t come back.”
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta supported Craft.
“Honestly, me telling him how to play defense would be like me telling somebody how to build a rocket ship,” Matta said. “I’ll live and die with that kid any day of the year.”
Sam Thompson scored 18 points for Ohio State (25-10), which stumbled down the stretch. After opening the season 15-0, the Buckeyes split their final 20 games.
It was a back-and-forth game that featured 15 lead changes, befitting of two schools that feature numerous connections.
Dayton coach Archie Miller spent two seasons at Ohio State working under Matta. And Flyers guard Jordan Sibert left the Buckeyes two years ago and transferred to Dayton.
As for the in-state rivalry, Craft had no time for questions about what the loss to Dayton meant.
“Sorry, I have zero thoughts on that right now,” he said. “I’m upset at the way we played this game, and the way we didn’t take the opportunity and make the most of it.”
Miller was antsy right up to the final buzzer, particularly with the ball in Craft’s hands on the Buckeyes final possession.
“I thought it was going in,” Miller said, referring to Craft’s miss at the buzzer. “I’ve watched those guys win that game 1,000 times. He’s a bulldozer with the ball. He got it down there in about three dribbles and got a good look. And it ended up rimming out. And we got lucky today.”
After falling behind 43-35 with 13:37 remaining, Ohio State capitalized on four Dayton turnovers to go on a 10-0 run capped by Thompson’s rebound of Craft’s miss with 10:23 remaining.
Neither team was capable of pulling away after that.
There was very little separating the teams during a first half that had seven lead changes and ended with Dayton ahead 33-30.
Matt Kavanaugh was the difference as the Buckeyes defense had difficulty containing him in the paint. Kavanaugh scored all nine of his points in the first 20 minutes, picking up the slack on offense after Sibert was forced to sit for seven minutes after picking up his second foul early in the first half.