Ben Vander Plas hated sitting on the bench last Friday against Miami.
He knew he needed to do it after he rolled his ankle Tuesday against Akron. The pain was still lingering from when he twisted it after making a hard, one-legged landing from a rebound attempt, but Vander Plas — who took a redshirt his freshman season — still didn’t want to miss a game.
“I sat a whole season, so I know what it feels like,” Vander Plas said. “I was just excited to get back on the court.”
Vander Plas, a sophomore who played in 30 of the Bobcats’ 31 regular season games, squashed any concerns about his ankle in Ohio’s 85-65 win over Central Michigan in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. He led Ohio with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while recording seven assists in his return Monday in The Convo.
“Sitting that one game felt like an eternity,” Vander Plas said. “Just seeing the energy those guys had at the end of that game had me excited to come home today.”
Vander Plas was a big reason why Ohio could play its first postseason game at home — his big-man abilities made him one of the biggest assets to the Bobcats’ offense beneath the rim. He was second on Ohio with 15.7 points per game and, with 33 minutes per game, rarely left the floor.
His absence was felt against the RedHawks. With Vander Plas in the lineup, Ohio throttled Miami 77-46 in their first meeting in February, but the Bobcats struggled to deliver the same punch Friday without Vander Plas. He had to be replaced with a rotation of Ben Roderick, Lunden McDay and Miles Brown — all freshmen — to secure a tight two-point win that clinched the first-round home game.
Vander Plas watched the game with a boot on his right ankle.
“It was just a decision coach Boals and Tyler (Congrove), our trainer, and me made before the game,” he said.
Boals told Vander Plas before the game Monday that he should let him know if he needed any rest. Vander Plas approached Boals once.
It was eight minutes into the first half. Vander Plas already had 10 points and given Ohio a comfy 21-6 lead. His long hair was already dripping in sweat and he was out of breath.
That wasn’t because he was out of shape from not playing in six days. He was legitimately tired after bullying CMU defenders beneath the rim on nearly every Ohio possession.
“Our training staff and doctors did a phenomenal job of getting him back to where he needed to be,” coach Jeff Boals said. “He didn’t look like he missed a beat tonight.”
Vander Plas had 17 points at halftime when Ohio led 45-23. That first-half cushion proved to be important when the Chippewas cut the deficit to 10 points with two minutes left.
When a comeback seemed possible, Vander Plas went to work again. This time, it was from the free-throw line, where he made a pair of free throws after drawing a foul from another hard layup attempt.
That pushed Ohio’s lead back up to 14 points, and a trip to Cleveland for the second round of the MAC Tournament was all but secured.
Vander Plas played 36 minutes and didn’t appear to be fatigued at all. He doesn’t normally prefer to sit for any game, but he said his rest Friday was a factor in his big night.
“The legs were feeling good tonight,” Vander Plas said. “I don’t love to sit out, but that was a big plus that came from it.”
Now, the Bobcats will need Vander Plas to play the same way Thursday against Akron. After Ohio lost 74-67 to the Zips last week, Boals said he believed Vander Plas’ injury was a turning point in the close game.
He’s healthy now, and the Bobcats have another chance to take down the No. 1 seed.
“It’s been a fun journey,” Vander Plas said, “and we’re going to keep it going.”