No. 15 Virginia men’s basketball saw its season come to a close Saturday night, falling to 13th-seeded Ohio 62-58. The Bobcats (17-7, 9-5 MAC) used a 16-2 second half run to take control of the game and pull off the upset against the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (18-7, 13-4 ACC).
Virginia got off to a strong start, with junior guards Kihei Clark and Trey Murphy and senior forward Jay Huff nailing three early three-pointers to take a 9-5 lead into the game’s first media timeout with 13:26 left in the first half. The Cavaliers locked down defensively to open the game, forcing Ohio into tough shots and several turnovers.
Bobcats’ star junior guard Jason Preston began to find some breathing room, hitting shots on back-to-back possessions to draw Ohio within one point at the under-12 media timeout. A pair of free throws from senior forward Dwight Wilson tied the game at 16 apiece with 8:17 remaining in the half, and from there, the two teams went scoreless for over two and a half minutes.
However, Virginia broke out on an 8-1 scoring burst, powered by five points from sophomore guard Casey Morsell, to take a 24-17 lead. The Bobcats closed the half with a run of their own, with junior forward Ben Vander Plas hitting a step-back three-pointer as time expired to cut the Cavalier lead to 28-27.
Both squads shot 10-for-28 in the first half, with Virginia’s 5-4 advantage in three-pointers giving the Cavaliers a one-point lead. Virginia was outrebounded 21-15, but it only committed one turnover in the game’s opening frame.
Senior forward Sam Hauser opened the second half with his first three-pointer of the game after missing his first four attempts from deep in the first half. Hauser added another jumper, and the Cavaliers got layups from Morsell and Clark to start the second half on a 10-4 run, forcing Ohio Coach Jeff Boals to use a timeout.
The Bobcats answered, ripping off a 16-2 run to take 47-40 lead with 4:43 remaining. Virginia went cold from the floor, not making a field goal for over 10 minutes, as the Bobcats got hot and took advantage of the Cavaliers’ woes.
Vander Plas highlighted the run with back-to-back three-pointers, and it wasn’t until a layup from freshman guard Reece Beekman with 4:27 left that Virginia finally slowed the momentum. Beekman added another layup on the ensuing possession, and following a huge block from Huff, Murphy drilled a three-pointer to bring the Cavaliers within two points.
However, Ohio showed why it was a popular upset pick and had won nine of nine down the stretch. Sophomore forward Ben Roderick scored five straight points, hitting a three-pointer with 1:09 left to give the Bobcats a 56-49 advantage.
Two straight buckets from Huff separated by a crucial steal from Beekman drew Virginia within three points with 13 seconds left, and following a pair of free throws from freshman guard Mark Sears, a three-pointer from Murphy cut the deficit to two points, giving the Cavaliers a glimmer of hope. Yet, sophomore guard Lunden McDay nailed two free throws to make it a two-possession game, effectively putting the game away.
Ohio won 62-58, ending Virginia’s season. For the Cavaliers, it’s certainly a disappointing ending to a season in which the team had to endure many hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought in the second half we ran a pretty good offense … and got the shots we wanted,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “We really had trouble capitalizing on them.”
Hauser led Virginia with 15 points but only made one of eight three-point attempts. For the game, Hauser and Huff combined to make only eight of 27 shots from the floor.
Nonetheless, Virginia can walk away with an ACC regular season title and yet another high seed in the NCAA tournament. While all players were granted an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, this game likely marks the end of the careers of Hauser, Huff and senior guard Tomas Woldetensae.
“We wanted an opportunity, and we’re grateful to the NCAA for granting us that,” Bennett said. “I thanked the old guys that put as much as they could into this program. I said you’ll remember your ACC regular season championship. That’s a big deal.”