Following a turbulent week resulting from a member of the team’s positive COVID test, the Virginia Cavaliers were hopeful as they were cleared to play their first round game against the University of Ohio. Unfortunately, on UVA Men’s Basketball Head Coach Tony Bennett’s 500th game, the Defending National Champions were defeated by 13th-seed Ohio by a close score of 58-62.
The game’s result can be attributed to the inability of Virginia players to land their shots and the stellar performance of Ohio junior forward Ben Vander Plas in the second half. With the Cavaliers postseason at an end, Coach Bennett remarked, “We are grateful to the NCAA for giving us the opportunity to play. We had a poor shooting day, but the guys played as hard as they could.”
The showdown between the Cavaliers and the Bobcats was made more interesting by the relationships between the players and coaching staff of both sides. UVA Head Coach Tony Bennett had played at Greenbay under the coaching of Dick Bennett alongside Dean Vander Plas, father to Ohio’s Ben Vander Plas, the Bobcats’ star shooter for the night. In addition, UVA senior forward Sam Hauser and Ben Vander Plas were AAU teammates as grade schoolers. The ensuing game would see intense competition by these two friends as each attempted to lead his team to advance past the first round.
The first half started off slow, as both defenses impressed early on. With only 9 minutes left in the first half, the teams were tied 14-14. But then the Cavaliers captured the momentum of the game when Reece Beekman, Casey Morsell, Trey Murphy III sank consecutive three-pointers, giving the Cavaliers a strong 24-17 lead.
The Hoos maintained their momentum into the start of the second half, as Sam Hauser opened with a three-pointer. But the Hoos’ 7-point lead came under strong attack by Bobcats forward Ben Vander Plas, who hit a three-pointer and then followed with a successful drive. With only 6 minutes left in the game, the lead previously gained by the Cavaliers was completely reversed; the Bobcats led 47-40, and Virginia failed to make a single shot for over three minutes.
When later asked about this stretch of the game, Coach Bennett said, “we had quality looks [at the basket] from my standpoint. I don’t know if we got tired down the stretch, but we didn’t knock down the shots I’ve seen us make before.”
In regards to his experience guarding Ben Vander Plas, Sam Hauser added, “he’s a great player and a great shot fake. He’s so fundamentally good. Without him, I don’t know what his team would be like.”
The Cavaliers’ lull was broken by three field goals by Reece Beekman and Trey Murphy III, narrowing the Bobcat’s lead to only two points at 49-47. However, just as the Hoos were poised to win back the lead, a timeout enabled Ohio to regroup, after which the Bobcats, through a combination of field goals, three pointers, and free throws, led again at 58-51.
The Hoos sprung into a frenzied series of three-pointers and successful assists, closing the gap to 58-60 with only 7 seconds left. In an attempt to force overtime or a last second game winner, Jay Huff fouled Bobcats #15 Lunden McDay, sending him to the free throw line. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, McDay made both free throws. The Hoos were unable to score again with only 5 seconds remaining, and the game ended 58-62.
While the Cavaliers were unable to make progress in the NCAA tournament, Virginia still ends the year with the 2021 ACC Regular Season title. In a season made highly unusual because of the pandemic, the Hoos have risen to the challenge. The team arrived in Charlottesville in the summer of 2020, and none of the members of the team were able to go home since their arrival.
Like many of his teammates, Sam Hauser showcased gratitude for this year’s experience, saying, “I’m definitely going to remember this year. Overall, I’m just happy that I was able to play. We definitely got to know each other at a deeper level.”
Coach Bennett and Sam Hauser both commended Ben Vander Plas for his performance and congratulated the Ohio Bobcats. The Cavaliers now get a well-deserved rest and are determined to return to the NCAA tournament next year.