Ben Vander Plas had trouble walking the last couple of days, due to stomping around in a boot designed to help him recover from an ankle injury.
Then he went through Valentine’s Day without a special someone to share it with, despite a teammate publicly stumping on his behalf weeks ago.
But any pain and disappointment from those events melted away Tuesday night as Vander Plas crafted the best game of his college career and led Ohio to another win over rival Miami in a 91-78 victory at the Convocation Center.
Vander Plas scored a career-high 30 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and added six assists and three steals in a dominating start-to-finish performance that powered the Bobcats (22-4, 13-2 Mid-American Conference) to yet another win in the ‘Battle of the Bricks’. Ohio has won six straight meetings against Miami, head coach Jeff Boals improved to 5-0 in the rival series as a coach, and OU has claimed 19 of the last 22 meetings.
“I don’t know,” Vander Plas said, when asked to explain the lopsidedness of the series of late. “Green is better than Red I guess.”
MIami (11-14, 5-9 MAC) had a two-game winning streak snapped, and played much of the game far better than it did in the first meeting with OU this season. But the RedHawks had no answer for Vander Plas, and when Mart Sears and Tommy Schmock got in on the act in the second half, the Bobcats flipped the game and took over.
Vander Plas hit 9 of his 12 shots from the field and bagged 9-of-10 from the foul line. He drew a whopping nine fouls from the RedHawks. He attacked off the dribble, hit three trademark high-arcing 3-pointers, powered through defenders in the paint, and whipped passes to open defenders.
With frontcourt teammate Jason Carter (lower leg) sitting out with injury, Ohio needed more from Vander Plas. He delivered, and then some.
“It was obvious they couldn’t guard (Vander Plas),” said Sears, who had his own monster effort with 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. “It was a mismatch all game long. I know it really opened up things for me.”
Schmock, the Division II transfer who’s looked like he’s belonged all season, scored a season-high 18 points in just 27 minutes, and nailed four three pointers. Vander Plas, Sears and Schmock combined for 42 of Ohio’s 52 second-half points.
“BVP is really an anchor for us,” Boals said. “That’s what fifth-year seniors do.
“That’s what winners do.”
Dae Dae Grant had a team-high 22 points for Miami. Mekhi Lairy added 18 points, Isaiah Coleman-Lands added 12 points and Myja White chipped in 11. The RedHawks’ guard-heavy approach accounted for 13 points, and Miami led for more than 16 points in the first half and by as much as nine.
But Vander Plas kept Ohio in it early with 17 first-half points. He slung a one-handed pass from under the basket to the top of the key late in the first half; Schmock hit the ensuing 3-pointer to give OU its first lead at 38-37. Vander Plas’ free throw a minute later led to a 39-39 halftime tie.
With Carter out, Ohio’s defense wasn’t as sharp as usual. Freshman forward IJ Ezuma started in his place, and effectively split minutes with fellow frosh AJ Clayton. Boals was non-committal about Carter’s availability the rest of the week, saying his status was “day-to-day.”
“When you’re missing a guy like Jason, everyone has to step up,” Vander Plas said. “I thought those guys did that.”
Ohio broke the game open early in the second half, with a 29-17 run that covered the first 11 minutes. Vander Plas started the run with a 3, and then a post-up bucket inside. He then found Schmock for a pair of assists on open 3-pointers while passing out of the post later in the surge.
Ohio led 68-56 after the run and Miami never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The Bobcats improved to a gaudy 14-1 at home this season. Boals said Ohio got a lift from the announced crowd of 7,990.
“That was huge,” Boals said. “What an awesome, phenomenal crowd tonight. The student section was incredible.”
The win also nudged Ohio into sole possession of first place in the MAC, with less than three weeks remaining. Toledo (12-3 MAC) dropped out of a first-place tie with OU after losing 72-59 to visiting Kent State on Tuesday night.
The Golden Flashes (16-9, 11-4 MAC) host Ohio on Friday night in a 7 pm start at the M.A.C. Center in Kent. KSU has won seven straight games; its longest win streak since 2012.