Mark Story: Lexington had a 2014 NCAA Tournament Mr. Big Shot not named Aaron Harrison

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 12, 2014 

At exactly 2:19 p.m. on March 20, former Lexington Catholic star Vee Sanford hit a shot that will long live in the college basketball lore of the state of Ohio.

With Sanford's Dayton Flyers down one to Ohio State, the 6-foot-4, 196-pound senior guard took an inbounds pass at the top of the key. He bounced the basketball twice with his left hand, used a cross-over dribble to transfer the ball to his right, then drove hard toward the basket.

Some eight feet from the hoop, Sanford rose above Ohio State defensive ace Aaron Craft and let loose a floater.

It banked in with 3.8 seconds left. It gave Dayton a 60-59 lead.

After Craft's furious charge back down the court ended with his own attempt at a game-winning floater rimming off, Sanford's bucket had given Dayton one of the sweetest victories in the school's basketball history.

"Honestly, those of us on the team, I'm not sure before the game we really understood how big it was to the people in Dayton," Sanford said Wednesday of the Ohio State game. "After we won, and saw the reaction, we understood."

To grasp the magnitude in the Buckeye State of Sanford's game-winner, know that no in-state school had beaten THE Ohio State University in men's basketball since 1998 (Toledo). No in-state school had beaten TOSU in the NCAA Tournament since 1962 (Cincinnati, in the national title game). No Dayton team had beaten the Buckeyes since 1984.

With one floater, Sanford rewrote a lot of history.

"I'm pretty sure it is one of the biggest shots in University of Dayton history," he said.

The shot that vanquished Ohio State had been envisioned in Lexington years before.

When Vee Sanford was young, he was unusually small. To compensate, his father, Vince, the early 1980s-era Lafayette High School star who went on to play for Lee Rose at South Florida, taught him the running floater.

"He was tiny," Vince Sanford said. "I taught him that floater, told him he'd need that kind of shot to get it over bigger kids."

As a child, Vee Sanford spent much time at the home of his maternal grandmother, Viola Johnson. She lived on Robertson Street, almost within the shadow of Rupp Arena. Many a time, he remembers going outside to shoot hoops and envisioning himself hitting a game-winner in the NCAA Tournament.

"I'd go out during the UK games and pretend I was hitting (a game-winning shot) for them," he said.

So when Dayton Coach Archie Miller put the ball in Sanford's hands against Ohio State, "I'd imagined myself taking that shot a million times," Sanford said.

In the immediate aftermath of his big shot, Sanford figures he heard from everyone he's ever met — well, almost. He received "about 250 text messages," he said. "I had about 800 friend requests on Instagram. A lot of craziness."

One of the texts came from John Thompson, the ex-Georgetown coach, who led the Hoyas to the 1984 NCAA championship. Sanford played the first two years of his college career for Thompson's son, John Thompson III, at Georgetown.

"Big John texted me, said he knew how hard I had worked," Sanford said. "He said that he was happy and proud that I was able to hit a great shot."

The win over Ohio State launched Dayton on a Cinderella run that did not end until UD lost to No. 1 Florida in the round of eight. After OSU, the 11th-seeded Flyers upset Syracuse and Stanford before falling 62-52 to Billy Donovan's Gators.

Back home in Lexington this summer, Sanford is working hoops camps. He is hoping for a shot to play professional basketball overseas. In the meantime, Sanford said he finds himself thinking much about how poorly Dayton shot (19-of-48) in the game that ended his college career and denied him a Final Four trip.

"I feel like we could have won that game if we had hit some shots," he said.

Fortunately, Sanford also has the shot that beat Ohio State to fill his thoughts. The best thing about hitting an NCAA Tournament game-winner is one carries the feeling with you for a lifetime.

"I know it's something that, some day, I'll tell my kids and my grandkids about," Sanford said.

The way I figure it, Sanford should have free meals in the best Dayton, Ohio, eateries ahead of him forever.

Vee Sanford laughed.

"I wish," he said.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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