Virginia, the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament champion, suffered another tough first-round loss on Saturday, losing to No. 13 Ohio State, 62-58, in Bloomington, Indiana.
The Cavaliers ran out to a seven-point lead early in the second half, but then went more than 10 minutes without a field goal, giving Ohio a seven-point lead. Virginia brought the score back to two points with eight seconds left on a three-pointer by Trey Murphy, but Ohio was able to turn the game around on two free throws by Lunden McDay.
This game, the atmosphere, even with the few fans, it’s a dream to be here and play a game I love, said Ohio forward Ben Vander Plas. There were a few family members in the stands, playing with their favorite team and playing for a coaching staff that I love to play with. Man, that was a special moment. Let’s get going.
Virginia, the No. 4 seed in the West Region, did not arrive in Indianapolis until Friday afternoon after a positive KOVID-19 test and subsequent contact investigation forced most of the team to remain in quarantine until Thursday. The Cavaliers practiced as a team Friday morning in Charlottesville, tested at COVID-19 upon arrival in Indianapolis, then again Saturday morning at 1:15 a.m. and had a shootout Saturday afternoon.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett didn’t want to blame the loss on rust or lack of practice time, however.
We came because we thought we had a chance. Of course I do, Bennett said. I don’t know if it would have mattered if it was a routine workout or not. How can you talk? We were playing against a good team and it’s a tournament.
We prepared as best we could. Again, Ohio played better, when they had to play, they played, and we let up a few. So, again, I’m grateful that we had this opportunity. You can’t go back and change something. I thought our guys were as ready as circumstances allowed.
It was the second time in the last three NCAA tournaments that Virginia lost in the first round to a double-digit seed. In 2018, the Cavaliers became the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed when they lost to UMBC. They also became the third team since 1979 to lose in the first round in three consecutive championships, following Indiana from 1986-88 and UCLA from 1994-96.
I had so much fun at this tournament, Bennett said. I was devastated too. Again, like I said, you should always be willing to take both, know that winning it all or losing it all or whatever doesn’t define you in your career. This is what you do, you do it with love, joy and passion, don’t let it define you any more than it needs to.
Ohio finished fifth in the Mid-American Conference during the regular season, but the Bobcats won three games in three days to win the conference tournament and earn the automatic invitation to the league. They had some COVID-19 issues the last month of the season, but have now won 10 of their last 11 games and are playing in one of the best basketball games in the country.
Point guard Jason Preston made his appearance in the NCAA Tournament with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists for the Bobcats. Preston scored just 52 points as a senior, but he’s now on the NBA’s radar and is one of the best point guards left in the tournament.
I told him this is where stars are born and legacies are made, Ohio coach Jeff Bowles said of Preston. Trust them. Clark is a very good defender. But Jason was able to get around a few in the second half, he got some huge rebounds….. Just a phenomenal performance. He is the heart and soul of our team. Today the world has seen who he is and what he is capable of. I’m just really proud of him.
Vander Plas, a player one of the MAC coaches mentioned to ESPN earlier in the week, was arguably the best player on the field for a long time Saturday. He finished the game with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists on three 3-point shots. At one point in the second half, Vander Plas scored 10 consecutive points for Ohio.
He’s convinced the Bobcats can do the same.
I think we go into each game expecting to win and preparing to win. So we’re going to try to win it all, Vander Plas said. That’s why we’re here. Let’s… What is it, five more games? We’re going to try to win five more games in a row.
Virginia has many personal decisions to make in the coming weeks. The Cavaliers have three seniors in the rotation, including seniors Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. Murphy, a junior, is also second on ESPN’s list.
For a team that was counted among the top five in the preseason, the end of the campaign is disappointing.
They know there will probably be better times to talk to them about what they meant and who they are as people and as players, Bennett said. You don’t hear much after the game. It’s just a matter of encouraging them, thanking them and telling them they will always be a part of it. They too will have an ACC regular season championship and a chance to play in the tournament. It will hurt how it ended, but that’s the point. I said I wish I had the magic words to take away the pain, but I don’t. Time heals everything.
Ohio will take on No. 5 Creighton, which defeated No. 12 UC Santa Barbara by one point on Saturday. And since Ohio State defeated 15th-ranked Oral Roberts on Friday, the Bobcats are wearing the mantle of Buckeye State.
I think we’re just glad he’s moving on. We are very grateful to you. Our guys came in expecting to win the game, Bowles said. I think the fact that we are the only ones left is great for social media and the fans. But our group doesn’t stop. We want the support of everyone we can. I think it’s great for our university.
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