Vee Sanford, Aaron Craft to square off again in rematch of NCAA Tournament thriller
The question was coming, and Aaron Craft anticipated it like a loose ball near the baseline.
Moments after Carmen’s Crew had eliminated Big X in the second round of The Basketball Tournament at Capital University, the Ohio State legend and enduring fan favorite was asked about Sunday’s opponent in the regional championship.
Five years removed from the final loss of his Buckeye career, Craft and five other Buckeyes will face team Red Scare, primarily comprised of University of Dayton alumni. That includes four players – Devin Oliver, Kyle Davis, Kendall Pollard and Vee Sanford – who were in uniform and contributed to the Flyers’ milestone, 60-59 upset of the Buckeyes in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
"Yeah, thanks for bringing that up," Craft deadpanned.
Anybody fancy a reunion? Among those on Carmen’s Crew, only LaQuinton Ross was also on the roster for Ohio State in that game. He finished with 10 points in what also proved to be his final NCAA game.
It was a stinging loss for the Buckeyes against an in-state foe that was plenty riled up as the matchup approached. That made the celebration all the sweeter in the Gem City, where the triumphant headline of the Dayton Daily News read "The University of Dayton."
Stanford, the Dayton guard who hit the game-winning shot despite Craft’s notoriously stingy defense, downplayed the notion of a revenge game of any kind. So did Craft. The two have amicably spent time together while playing overseas in France, both said.
"As much as we want to make (Sunday) about five years ago, it’s completely different," Craft said. "Those guys are evolved and changed and grown and I think the same is for us. I’m just excited because we get to play against a team that they’re going to play hard, they’re going to get after it and their fans are traveling here too."
Flyers grad Kyle Davis, however, said he remembers everything from the bench.
"It was a great environment, great atmosphere, great feeling," he said. "Give and take. The refs let us play. To have them again and beat them again, it’ll be a great feeling."
Craft got the final shot but missed.
"I don’t really remember anything but Vee’s floater and me trying not to foul Craft on his shot," Oliver said. "There was no foul. It was straight up. He almost made it, though."
It’s a game Craft said he thinks about a little more than other games given that it ended his playing career, one he said he wished "would’ve lasted forever." He then said the same feeling was likely shared by former teammates Dallas Lauderdale and William Buford, who coached and played, respectively, in Saturday’s win against Big X, when they thought about their playing careers.
When Lauderdale interjected that he didn’t need to bring their final games into the conversation, Craft pointed out the teams they lost to. For Buford, that was Kansas in the 2012 Final Four, a fact he was quick to point out to Craft.
"I’d rather lose to Kansas than to Dayton, but go ahead," he told him.
Clearly, the loss left a mark even on Buckeyes who weren’t part of it. Before he concluded, though, Craft paid the Flyers a compliment.
"I’m kind of glad it had to end against a team that was playing the right way," he said. "They obviously made a run to the Elite Eight that year and were playing great basketball, so it wasn’t like we lost to a team that barely beat us. They earned the win, and that’s how it is."