Jason Carter had his legs taken out from under him and the Bobcats never regained their footing.
Carter was knocked out of the contest on the game’s first possession and the Bobcats’ 2021-22 season ended on Monday night in a 91-86 loss to Abilene Christian in the quarterfinal round of the 2022 College Basketball Invitation (CBI) at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. Fla.
Ohio (25-10), the 16-team tournament’s No. 3 seed, saw its season end after losing six of its final nine games. No. 6 Abilene Christian (25-10) has won 14 of its last 17 and advances to the semifinals of the CBI against Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday. MTSU was the only one of the top four seeds – they were the No. 2 – to reach the bracket’s semifinals.
Sophomore Mark Sears and senior forward Ben Vander Plas did all they could to keep the Bobcats alive for another day. Sears exploded for a career-high 37 points as he hit 10 of 19 shots from the field and connected on 16 of 21 free throws. Vander Plas, in perhaps his final collegiate game, added 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
But those efforts weren’t enough when OU was laboring uphill throughout.
“I’m sorry to see our season end this way but our guys gave it everything they had,” said Ohio coach Jeff Boals.
The Bobcats were thrown off stride on the game’s first possession. Carter, the sixth-year senior forward, drove down the lane and elevated for a layup or possible dunk. A Wildcat defender slid into his legs trying to draw a charge and Carter landed hard on his right hand. Carter attempted the first of his two ensuing free throws, but missed badly and had to come out.
Carter, Ohio’s best interior scorer, rebounder, and defender, didn’t return. He received medical attention on the sideline, then spent the majority of the remainder of the game in a sling.
Ben Roderick took, and made, the second of Carter’s two free throws for a 1-0 lead with 19:46 left in the first half. It was Ohio’s only lead of the night.
“It completely changed the game,” Boals said.
“He’s an elite defender and does a lot of things offensively for us,” added Vander Plas. “It was a little bit difficult to work with.”
Abilene Christian, which fouled freely and often, scored the next eight points and never trailed again. The Wildcats were whistled for 31 fouls during the game, and Ohio took 40 free throws.
Coryon Mason led four ACU players in double figures with 20 points and Airion Simmons added 18 points, six rebounds, and six assists in just 21 minutes. The Wildcats forced 10 of Ohio’s 14 turnovers in the first half, but finished well below their 21 turnovers forced per game average.
Ohio struggled at times against ACU’s constant pressure and failed to help itself with good shooting. The Bobcats were 7 of 23 (30.4%) from 3-point range, and that includes a 3 of 6 spurt inside the final four minutes when OU was trying to erase a 10-point deficit. Ohio also hit just 27 of those 40 free throw attempts (67.5%).
“That’s a lot of empty points we left out there,” Boals said.
A.J. Clayton had 11 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes filling in for Carter, but Ohio largely had little beyond Sears and Vander Plas. Clayton, Roderick (5 points on 2/7 shooting), and Vander Plas all fouled out.
Down 8-1, Ohio scored seven of the next nine points to pull to within 10-8 after a Vander Plas 3-pointer. It was as close as the Bobcats would get the rest of the way. ACU led by nine at several points in the first half before settling for a 36-29 lead at the break. OU was 1 of 11 from 3-point range in the half.
Sears dominated the second half, with 24 points, and kindled some of his magic from Saturday night to keep the Bobcats within striking distance. Roderick’s jumper from the lane pulled OU to within 63-60 with just over seven minutes remaining.
But the Wildcats staved off any thoughts of a full comeback with an offense that wasn’t to be denied. ACU hit seven of its final eight shots from the field, scored on 14 of its last 16 possessions, and converted 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch. The Wildcats scored 28 points in the final 6:34.
Simmons hit a pair of jumpers to give ACU a pair of 10-point leads – at 72-62 and then 80-70 with 1:55 left. Consecutive 3-pointers from Vander Plas and Tommy Schmock brought OU to within 86-82 with 42.4 second remaining, but the Wildcats hit five of six free throws in the final 39 seconds.
The game was the last of their collegiate careers for both Carter and Schmock (9 points), who transferred to Ohio this season for one last push for postseason glory. Vander Plas could elect to return next year for a sixth season, but has not yet made that decision.
Vander Plas didn’t tip his hand afterward either, but was asked IF this was it what he’d remember.
“It was a fun team to be a part of…a lot of great memories,” Vander Plas said. “I just hope people saw that I loved playing basketball. I hope people enjoyed how I tried to be a role model with this team, in the classroom, and for the Athens community.”
A spate of close losses marred the ending to what was shaping up to be a historic season for Ohio and Boals, the third-year head coach. The Bobcats labored down the stretch, ended the regular season with a three-game losing skid, and lost in the MAC Tournament semifinals.
He preferred not to dwell on that afterward, saying his lone regret this year was not being able to get the team back into the NCAA Tournament for Carter, Schmock, senior guard John Tenerowicz, and potentially Vander Plas.
Instead, Boals mentioned Ohio’s second-most in program history 25 wins, 14 MAC victories (also second most), and cumulative grade point average (3.25). The team lost one returning starter (Jason Preston) to the NBA draft, another to knee surgery (Dwight Wilson III), and a third in-season (Lunden McDay). In addition, Carter played with a nagging leg injury for most of the last six weeks.
“We had some close games and we couldn’t close them. Obviously we have to get better,” the coach said.
“This isn’t an indicator of our season. They were fun to coach, high-character guys,” Boals said. “The character of this group shone through every single day.”
2022 College Basketball Invitational
Ocean Center, Daytona Beach, Fla.
First Round, March 19-20
No. 1 Drake 87, No. 16 Purdue Fort Wayne 65
No. 9 UNC-Wilmington 93, No. 8 VMI 78
No. 13 UNC-Asheville 80, No. 4 Stephen F. Austin 68
No. 12 No. Colorado 74, No. 5 Florida Atlantic 71
No. 2 Middle Tennessee St. 64, No. 15 California Baptist 58
No. 10 Boston University 71, No. 7 UNC-Greensboro 68
No. 3 Ohio 65, No. 14 Rice 64
No. 6 Abilene Christian 82, No. 11 Troy 70
Quarterfinals, Monday, March 21
No. 9 UNC-W 76, No. 1 Drake 75
No. 12 No. Colorado 87, No. 13 UNC-A 84
No. 2 Middle Tennessee 76, No. 10 Boston U. 46
No. 6 Abilene Christian 91, No. 3 Ohio 86
Semifinals, Tuesday, March 22
Broadcast live on ESPN2
No. 9 UNC-Wilmington (25-9) vs. No. 12 No. Colorado (22-15), 7 pm
No. 2 Middle Tennessee St. (25-10) vs. No. 6 Abilene Christian (25-10), 9 pm
Championship, Wednesday, March 23
Broadcast live on ESPN2, 5 p.m.