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Men's Basketball: Ohio upsets Virginia 62-58 in first round of the NCAA Tournament

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana — At no point this season has Ohio been intimidated by an opponent. 

Not against top-10 ranked Illinois, not against Buffalo in the MAC Tournament Final and certainly not against No. 4 seed Virginia on Saturday night. 

Ohio’s confidence shined through against the defending National Champion so much that the Bobcats played Virginia’s game — slow and methodical — and still stunned the Cavaliers 62-58 at Assembly Hall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

With the win, No. 13 seed Ohio will move on to the second round to face No. 5 seed Creighton on Monday. 

For Ohio coach Jeff Boals, the Bobcats’ victory Saturday was a defining moment for the program. Ohio had not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2012. That year, Ohio was also a 13 seed before making it all the way to the Sweet 16. Boals believes his team could make a similar run. 

“I told the team after the game that the power of unity, the power of belief and the power of confidence is huge,” Boals said. “And if you go back to the Illinois game, we’ve shown that we can play with anybody in the country.” 

It took Ohio the entire game to prove that. 

Virginia played its brand of basketball from the opening tip. Cavaliers’ coach Tony Bennett made sure his team moved the ball and forced Ohio into bad shots early. The Bobcats went several stretches of little to no offense, resulting in long scoring droughts. 

Virginia, however, wasn’t able to pull away. Ohio’s defense was just as stingy and both teams shot an identical 10-for-28 from the field (35.7%). At the half, Virginia led by one, but Ohio had the momentum after a Ben Vander Plas’ 3-pointer tightened the score to 28-27. 

Vander Plas, who led the game with 17 points, heated up in the second half. Down by one with 8:13 left to play, Vander Plas took over Ohio’s offense and sped things up a bit. The redshirt junior scored Ohio’s next 10 points and put the Bobcats up by seven. 

With four minutes left to play, Ohio’s belief grew even stronger. 

“Basketball’s a game of runs. You always hear that, but yeah, that was our little run,” Vander Plas said. “Got a couple stops in a row. That’s a big thing for us, if we can string some stops together. We’re a pretty good offensive team, so the big focus for us is getting those stops that lead to buckets on the offensive end.”

Defensively, it was hard to get Virginia to make a mistake. The Cavaliers only turned the ball over three times throughout the game. Ohio likes to force steals and push the pace so its offense can heat up. Boals instead settled for a more patient approach. 

“There were multiple times in the second half that they could've broke,” Boals said. “We always talk about ‘bend, but don’t break.’ And Ben Vander Plas made some huge plays in the second half. Jason Preston made some great, great plays, made some big free throws down the stretch, and we were very fortunate to win the game.” 

Vander Plas’ emergence carried the Bobcats on the scoreboard, but Preston’s full body of work was huge late in the game. The junior point guard finished the night with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. 

All eyes are on Preston, but Saturday night showed that Ohio’s talent runs deep. Ben Roderick totaled 15 points, Dwight Wilson battled tough against Virginia’s Jay Huff and Lunden McDay scored eight points, including the final two free throws that iced the game. 

When the final buzzer sounded in Assembly Hall, Ohio rushed the court. The first tournament win in almost a decade had been secured. When Ohio lost to Illinois, it felt like it should’ve won. Beating the Cavaliers was just another reminder that the Bobcats deserve to be on the court with the best. They prove their merit time after time. 

But they’re doing it their way. The Bobcats love the underdog persona. Court Street is going to party for every game like it’s the National Championship, Jeff Boals is going to dance for big wins and the Bobcats are going to keep trying to prove the doubters wrong. 

And they don’t plan to stop soon. 

“I think we go into every single game expecting to win, prepared to win,” Vander Plas said. “So we’re gonna try to win the whole thing. That’s what we’re here to do.” 

@JL_ Kirven

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