Bobcats squeeze past Buffalo, 76-75, with Wilson’s game-winner

The last time he played in Buffalo, Ohio junior forward Ben Vander Plas had a career-high 28 points and seemingly couldn’t miss.

In Friday’s return bout, Vander Plas traded in those points for gritty plays in the closing seconds and likely felt much better about the outcome.

Ohio forward Ben Vander Plas (5), seen here on Jan. 26, had a key defensive play in the Bobcats’ 76-75 victory at Buffalo on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

Forward Dwight Wilson III cleaned up Vander Plas’ miss with 25 seconds left, and Vander Plas came up with a critical block seconds later, as Ohio beat the Bulls 76-75 at Alumni Arena on Friday night.

“I’m super proud of our guys,” OU head coach Jeff Boals said afterward. “Last year, we were in a very, very similar situation and lost that one at the end. I told our guys, great teams find a way to win.”

Last year, Ohio lost 76-73 at Buffalo. But Friday’s win was the third in a row for this edition of the Bobcats (10-6, 6-4 Mid-American Conference), who hadn’t won at UB since 2017.

Wilson, steadfast as usual, scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. His game-winning bucket came on an offensive rebound after Vander Plas, forcing the issue inside, threw up an awkward shot from the middle of the lane.

Wilson gathered in the miss, and flipped in a layup.

Buffalo (6-6, 4-4 MAC) had two chances to grab the lead back in the final seconds. Jeenathan Williams, who had 14 points, tried working the left block – one-on-one – against Vander Plas. Williams created contact, but Vander Plas went straight up and blocked the shot both arms raised high above his head.

Wilson got that rebound, too, and was promptly fouled. But he missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.3 seconds left. The Bulls brought the ball up quickly, worked toward the middle then found Ronaldo Segu alone high above the 3-pointer arc.

Segu’s shot bounced off the rim just before the buzzer sounded and Ohio’s bench rushed the floor to celebrate.

“Give our guys a lot of credit,” said Boals. “They found a way to win against a really good team. That’s three in a row now, and we’ve got to keep building on it.”

Ben Roderick added 17 points for the Bobcats, with 15 coming in the first half. Lunden McDay chipped in 10 points, and Vander Plas added six points and eight rebounds.

Jason Preston had just six points through the first 32 minutes, but finished with 14 to go with team-highs of nine rebounds and four assists.

Center Josh Mballa had 14 points and 12 rebounds to back Williams and Buffalo’s interior-based attack. Jayvon Graves netted a team-high 18 points and Segu finished with 11, but Ohio successfully negated the Bulls’ strength: rebounding.

Ohio won the battle of the boards 38-34, and limited the Bulls to 12 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points – both below their averages. The Bobcats outscored UB in the paint 48-36.

Buffalo led 5-2 in the opening minutes, but didn’t lead again unless the final minute of the second half. Ohio was locked in early, and landed a 13-0 run to go up 15-5 just six minutes in.

“The start was really key,” Boals said. “I thought it set the tone for the game.”

From there, the Bulls continually pushed uphill against the deficit and Bobcats found answers each time. In the first half, UB pulled to within 27-25 with 6:13 remaining, but Ohio rattled off a 12-3 spurt for a 41-32 halftime lead.

Buffalo closed to 58-56 with just under nine minutes left, but Preston scored six straight points to stabilize the Bobcats.

Williams’ driving layup tied it 68-68 with 5:07 remaining, but Preston answered with a high-banker from the right side. Preston’s push shot from the lane gave OU a 74-70 edge with 2:19 left.

Buffalo stole the late lead thanks to Graves. His steal set up a free throw, and then a second steal led to a layup. After Ohio’s third straight turnover, Mballa cashed in a third shot on one possession with 40 seconds remaining to give the Bulls a 75-74 lead.

After that, Vander Plas and Wilson brought it home for Ohio. The recent lessons about toughness and rebounding seemingly manifesting at the most timely point.

“We knew they were going to make a run at some point, but we withstood it,” said Boals.

Boals kept the rotation tight as if it was an elimination game. Preston (39 minutes), Wilson (37), Vander Plas (36) and McDay (33) had high minute counts, with just 31 (of 200) divvied up for the bench.

The win was also Ohio’s first one-point victory since 2017. On March 9, Kenny Kaminsky hit a late jumper to give OU a 67-66 win over Toledo in the third round of the 2017 MAC Tournament.

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