(Photo courtesy of Dayton Athletics)

Getting benched was tough. Losing my grandmother was much tougher.

Just as the season was about to begin, my grandmother died of breast cancer. It was tough because we were really close, but I remembered that every dark moment in your life eventually passes. I decided to play the rest of the season in her memory. I just didn't realize that it would include me taking the biggest shot of my life.

By the time we arrived at the NCAA Tournament in 2014, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We had beaten a pair or ranked teams in Gonzaga and Saint Louis earlier in the year, and we knew we had the talent to make a run. Then on Selection Sunday as the pairings were announced, it came up on the screen: we were playing Ohio State. An in-state rival.

We knew that OSU was the team that almost everyone in Ohio cheered for, so we came into the game with a chip on our shoulder. We might have been the 11 seed, but we knew we had a chance. As it turned out, with just a few seconds remaining and our team only down 59-58, the ball would end up in my hands.

I let the seconds tick by before making my move. I drove up to about ten feet from the basket and let it fly.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of Dayton Athletics)

The funny thing was I had been in this position at two other points in the season, and I had missed it both times. But being a Christian isn't about never messing up. It's about learning from your mistakes, and I knew if the opportunity ever came again, I wouldn't be afraid to take the shot.

When I was a kid, counting down the final seconds, I used to pretend I was Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. They had come up clutch time and again, and I wanted to live that out. Sure enough, with just 3.8 seconds left on the clock, the ball fell through the net for the 60-59 lead. After Aaron Craft's last second shot was off the mark, it was official...we had just upset the Buckeyes!

 
 

That win set us up with a game against the 3 seed, Syracuse, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. We pulled off the upset in that game too, winning 55-53. That's when we heard about our campus back home celebrating as we advanced. We realized what an impact we were having on our community.

In the next game we beat Stanford 82-72 to end up in the Elite 8. Our team had only twice advanced that far before, and my draft stock had never been higher.

Unfortunately that was about as good as the tournament would get for us. We lost the next game 62-52 to Florida, the 1 seed, and just like that my college career was over.

I felt like it wouldn't be the last time I ever put on a jersey, but as the next two years would show, this game has no guarantees.


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Thomas Hager