UD seniors keeping their season, tournament run alive

NCAA 2nd rd UD vs OSUThe University of Dayton men’s basketball team celebrates a 60-59 win over Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, March 20, 2014, at the First Niagara Center, in Buffalo, New York. UD play on Saturday. Ethan Klosterman/Photo Editor
By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor

Senior night, held March 8, honored the University of Dayton men’s basketball seniors prior to the final regular season home game.

It wasn’t the final game of their careers. And after advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, they’re still not done playing for UD.

“It’s incredible,” senior forward Oliver said following his team’s 60-59 win over The Ohio State University Thursday, March 20, at the First Niagara Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. “It’s my first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. To come and advance, not just be in the tournament, it’s special. We want to keep going.”

Oliver, along with forward Matt Kavanaugh and guard Vee Sanford, helped lead the charge in both halves against the Buckeyes, stepping up as seniors.

None were bigger than Sanford, who’s running floater in the paint with 3.8 seconds left made it possible for Dayton to play on this season, and sent Ohio State home.

“Vee is one of, if not our best player,” Oliver said. “Just driving to the basket and making a play at the rim, we set up so I was going to set a fake on a screen and give him a little bit of room to operate. Once he got that first step, I didn’t even go to get the offense rebound. I just have so much confidence in Vee, knew he was going to knock it down and came up big.”

Oliver led the charge early, scoring five straight in the opening minutes to give UD its first lead. Kavanaugh had all nine of his points in the first half to lead all scorers at the break and give UD a three-point advantage.

It helped set the stage for two of Sanford’s 10 points to get UD a win.

“Mainly, he wanted me to go right and kind of just open up the floor,” Sanford said of his winning shot. “He knows that’s my strength. If I had the opportunity to get to the basket, you know, I have a high percentage of hitting the shot.”

Oliver said he didn’t even know the game was over when the buzzer sounded.

“I wasn’t even paying attention,” Oliver said. “I thought the score was tied and once [OSU senior guard Aaron] Craft missed that last attempt, I saw everyone started cheering at half court and I didn’t really know what was going on. I looked up at the scoreboard and we won, and I tackled Vee. He picked me up.”

Sanford and Oliver both agreed it was a well-drawn play and it worked as it was supposed to.

“Credit to all the guys,” Kavanaugh said. “Everyone fought hard, everyone contributed, and especially Vee Sanford and that big shot.”

Now UD prepares to face Syracuse University, who the team almost met back in the championship game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational in November.

Any loss in the NCAA tournament sends a team home and ends its season. Dayton and its seniors pushed forward Thursday to keep that from happening.

“It gave us a sense of confidence once you get past that first round,” Oliver said. “Kind of a ‘anything’s possible’ mentality. We feel like we’re a good team and we got to continue to push forward into Saturday.”