The Virginia men’s basketball team’s season ended in heartbreaking fashion Saturday night as the Cavaliers lost to Ohio 62-58 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Bloomington, Indiana.
The ACC regular-season champions experienced tremendous success this season, picking up clutch victories and finishing atop the conference standings. The Cavaliers also experienced heartbreaking losses and impactful issues with COVID-19. The team spent much of the week before Saturday’s loss in quarantine because of a positive test within the team.
In the end, the Cavaliers’ season ended on a sour note, but head coach Tony Bennett was proud of his team’s effort during one of the most unusual seasons in college basketball history.
“I just thanked the old guys that put as much as they could into this program,” Bennett said. “I said, ‘You’ll remember your ACC regular-season championship. That’s a big deal, and you’ll also remember getting beat in this tournament, but nothing to hang your head about.’”
Here are three takeaways from the Cavaliers’ season-ending loss.
Emotional highs and lows
Virginia’s Justin McKoy tested positive for COVID-19 following the team’s ACC Tournament game against Syracuse. As a result, UVa wondered if it would even be able to play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers were able to play, although the preparation leading up to the event was far from ideal. Virginia wasn’t able to practice as a team until Friday, once it cleared COVID-19 protocols. The team then traveled to Indianapolis and had to clear additional COVID-19 protocols to play Saturday night in Bloomington, Indiana.
Bennett and his team were thrilled for the chance to compete in the event. They knew it wasn’t perfect preparation, but they were happy to be included after a stressful few days leading up to the tournament.
As VCU’s shocking exit Saturday due to COVID-19 protocols showed, no games were guaranteed this season.
Heartbreak arrived Saturday night for UVa, but it came on the court.
Virginia fought hard against Ohio, but the scrappy mid-major program made the necessary shots in the clutch moments to defeat the reigning national champions. The Cavaliers had chances to win, but they didn’t play their best.
It was an emotional week and a half for Virginia that began with a buzzer-beating win over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. After the positive COVID-19 test, the team was uncertain whether it would play in the Big Dance. It did, but lost a close game to a talented mid-major foe.
The ending wasn’t what Virginia wanted, but the Cavaliers were grateful their season ended on the court.
“That’s where you want to be able to end your season is in the tournament,” redshirt senior forward Sam Hauser said.
Rough shooting after layoff
Normally an elite shooting team, UVa’s jumpers looked off Saturday night. The Cavaliers, who were only able to practice once as a team before Saturday’s game, struggled from all over the court.
Often, UVa relied on 3-point shot attempts. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, the shots didn’t fall.
Virginia made eight of its 31 shots from beyond the arc, shooting just 25.8% from beyond the arc. The team only shot 35% from the field for the entire game. Redshirt seniors Sam Hauser and Jay Huff made just eight of their 27 shots, including a 2-for-14 mark from beyond the 3-point line.
“You can’t make any excuse for not being able to make shots,” Hauser said.
It was an ugly shooting performance for Virginia, which doesn’t come as a complete shock following the team’s lengthy COVID-19 pause. Bennett wouldn’t blame the poor shooting on the break, though.
“Ohio played a better game,” Bennett said. “When they needed to make the plays, they made the plays and we left some on the table.”
UVa’s ultimate undoing was a stretch of just over 10 minutes in the second half when it failed to make a shot from the field. UVa led 38-31 after a made layup with 14:35 left. UVa trailed 47-42 after finally making another field goal with 4:27 remaining.
Ohio’s stars do just enough
UVa’s shooting was subpar, but Ohio’s wasn’t much better.
The Bobcats made just 42% of their shots Saturday, but they delivered in clutch moments. Ben Vander Plas, a forward named after Tony Bennett’s father, Dick, went 7-for-15 from the field and scored 17 points. He also added five rebounds and four assists.
“He’s a great player, man,” Hauser said. “He’s crafty. He’s deceiving. He’s got a really good shot fake. And obviously you saw he has really deep range, and he made a couple bombs tonight. Hats off to him, man, he’s good.”
Ohio also received a massive lift from their best player, Jason Preston. The junior guard came through with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. He made four of his seven shots and was the team’s floor general in the victory.
Preston and Vander Plas did just enough to propel Ohio to the victory. The team’s stars came through in clutch moments and helped the program pick up a signature win in the NCAA Tournament.