Ben Vander Plas can't put his finger on it. He doesn't know what spurred the best performance of his collegiate career in Ohio's win over Miami.
All he knew was that he needed to be a leader.
The redshirt senior knew his team would be playing Tuesday's game shorthanded. Ohio's big man, Jason Carter, wasn't dressed for the game. He was out with a lower leg injury, and there wasn't a chance he'd get time on the court. Ohio was without its third-best scorer and one of its best all-around players.
Vander Plas had been injured before Tuesday as well. He tweaked his ankle in Ohio's game against Eastern Michigan last Saturday and sat out the final minutes, as well as several practices afterward, because of it. But Vander Plas didn't let an ankle injury stop him. He was cleared to face Miami, and he ensured his time on the court wouldn't be wasted.
"When you missing a guy like Jason, everybody's got to step their game up a little bit," Vander Plas said.
Behind Vander Plas' towering 30-point performance, Ohio clocked Miami 91-78 inside The Convo on Tuesday night. Vander Plas and Mark Sears, who scored 23 points, spearheaded a second half barrage during which Ohio scored 52 points and pelted Miami with 50% shooting from beyond the arc. Both Sears and Vander Plas notched double-doubles after grabbing 11 and 10 rebounds respectively, and both recorded six assists.
The Bobcats had to make up for lost time. They'd fallen behind after tipoff, after the RedHawks assumed the lead with an immediate 3-pointer from Dae Dae Grant. The Bobcats missed their first two 3-point attempts and were 5-of-16 from beyond the arc before halftime. Aside from Vander Plas, none of the Bobcats scored more than six points in the first half.
Ohio held the lead for 25 seconds after Tommy Schmock knocked down his first 3-pointer of the night, but Miami struck right back. Vander Plas tied the game with a free throw ahead of halftime, but Ohio knew it had to adjust. It had been roughed up by the No. 8 team in the Mid-American Conference for 20 minutes.
"I thought they played with a better pace offensively," Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. "They switched some things up because of our coverage defensively, which we had to end up adjusting to. I thought we did a really good job of that."
When Ohio visited Miami in Oxford in mid-January, it nabbed a runaway lead and padded the score after halftime. Miami didn't get that luxury in The Convo.
Bit by bit, the Bobcats wore down the RedHawks. Miles Brown sank a 3-pointer early in the second half which gave Ohio a permanent lead for the remainder of the game. Three-straight 3s in less than a minute sent 7,990 fans inside The Convo into a frenzy. Despite the absence of Carter, who was the go-to man in the paint, Ohio hounded Miami up close. By the end of the game, Ohio had scored 34 points in the paint and was 11-of-28 from beyond the arc.
"It was obvious they couldn't guard anything in the post," Sears said. "That was big. We really wanted to focus that because it was really mismatched all day long. That opened it up really for me in the second half."
Ohio's schedule has been nothing short of a meat grinder over the past two weeks. It just returned from a road trip that packed three games into five days, with little layover to give the Bobcats ample rest. Sears likened it to an NBA schedule. Another wrench was thrown in the machine after Carter's injury. Ohio is getting proper rest, but it's without one of its best starters.
Still, Ohio found a way to power through against Miami without Carter. It took a herculean effort from Vander Plas and Sears, but Ohio persisted.
All the Bobcats needed was someone to lead.