With a friend back in town and sitting courtside, Ben Vander Plas added another indelible moment to his long and decorated Bobcat career.
Vander Plas, a fifth-year senior forward, collected a symmetrical triple-double on Tuesday night as Ohio shook off a nightmare performance on Friday to down Central Michigan 76-50. Vander Plas finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists – the last helper coming with 2:24 left in the blowout – to produce the first triple-double of his career.
The win helped the Bobcats (23-5, 14-3 MAC) wash out the bad taste from a humbling 75-52 loss at Kent State just four nights earlier. The triple-double was the first of Vander Plas’ career, and just the fourth in program history. Vander Plas joined D.J. Cooper (once) and Jason Preston (twice) as the only Bobcats to accomplish the feat.
The triple-double was just the sixth in school history. Ohio women’s players Cece Hooks and Erica Johnson both have such games under their belt as well.
What made it even better for Vander Plas was the fact that Preston, currently enlisted by the NBA’s LA Clippers, was there to see it. Preston sat courtside, seemed to enjoy offering some passing tips, and was honored during a first-half timeout.
“To be a part of that list…it’s pretty special. And to have Jay back to see it in person was really cool. I’m thankful,” Vander Plas said. “I was just trying to emulate his game tonight as much as I could.”
Ohio led by as much as 32 points down the stretch against CMU (6-19, 5-9), which left Vander Plas’ pursuit of the triple-double as the only late-game drama. Coach Jeff Boals pulled his starters at the under-4 timeout, but left Vander Plas in for a shot at the triple-double.
Vander Plas got it two possessions later, with a sharp pass to a cutting Sam Towns for a layup. Ever a pragmatist, Boals didn’t believe the notable performance from Vander Plas was destined just because Preston was back for a visit during the NBA’s All-Star Break.
No, Boals doesn’t believe in kismet.
“Who?” he replied when asked.
Boals’ appreciation for Preston hasn’t dwindled since the point guard was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft last summer, however.
“How about that? It was awesome seeing JP. I miss him, I love that kid. He’s done a lot for this program,” Boals said.
Vander Plas’ passing was contagious and carried through the Ohio lineup throughout. The Bobcats notched 23 assists on 27 made buckets. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the extra pass was Ohio backup guard Tommy Schmock, who finished with game and career-highs of 23 points and seven made 3-pointers.
Schmock missed his first three attempts, then made four straight during the first half.
“I shot probably like five 3s in a minute and a half,” Schmock said. “Just keep shooting. Shooters shoot.”
Jason Carter added 12 points and eight rebounds, Ben Roderick chipped in 10 points, and Mark Sears added eight points, five rebounds, and seven assists for Ohio. The ‘Cats hit 10 of 28 3-pointers; Schmock was 7 of 14 himself.
“Obviously Tommy Schmock was huge. When someone goes 7-for-14, that’s going to help your offense no matter what,” Boals said.
Ralph Bissainthe had 12 points and nine boards to lead CMU, while Brian Taylor and Kevin Miller both netted 11 points. Miller had a career-high in the first meeting this season, but Sears hounded him throughout and forced him into a 5-of-17 shooting night.
The Chippewas never found the range. CMU shot a miserable 24.2 percent in the first half, during which they averaged just 0.667 points per possession. For the game, the Chips shot it at a 31.3 percent clip, including a 4-of-22 effort from 3-point range.
“We defended them very well, and that’s not something we did at Kent. It’s something to build on,” Schmock said.
CMU led 10-7 nine minutes into the first half, then Schmock started hitting from deep. He and AJ Clayton bagged consecutive 3-pointers – from the left corner and the top of the key – to jump-start an 18-5 Ohio run.
Schmock’s fourth triple of the half gave Ohio a 31-20 team that turned into a 33-22 lead at the break.
Ohio used an 11-2 surge to start the second half to push the lead to 44-24 and never looked back. Schmock added three more 3-pointers over the next eight minutes and OU’s lead was 67-40 with 8:34 left.
“I was like ‘You know, Tommy’s out there somewhere at 40 feet. I’ll find him and he’s probably going to make it,” Vander Plas said. “ Just chuck it out to him.”
With the win, Ohio improved to 15-1 at home this season. The Bobcats also maintained a tie for first place in the MAC standings with Toledo (14-3), which rolled to a 42-point win at Western Michigan on Saturday. Kent State (13-4) won its ninth in a row Tuesday with a home blowout over Ball State. In fourth place is Buffalo (11-4), which clipped Miami on Tuesday.
Ohio is set to play its final home game of the season on Friday night, when Akron (18-9, 11-6) comes to the Convo for a 6 p.m. start. The Bobcats won the first meeting this season, 69-63, in the JAR On Jan. 4.
“I’m looking forward to Friday night’s game. Hopefully (we) have another great crowd and it should be a great game on national TV,” Boals said.
The game could also be the last in the building for Vander Plas, who has an additional year of eligibility to use if he chooses from the COVID-marred 2019-20 season. He’s been non-committal when asked, and repeated it again on Tuesday.
“We’ll see,” he said.