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OWEN KAELBLE | NCAA.COM | March 21, 2021

Ben Vander Plas — name inspired by Bennett family — plays starring role in Ohio upset of Tony's Virginia

Ohio vs. Virginia: Extended highlights from 2021 NCAA Tournament

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Ben is short for Bennett, as in the Bennett family.

At the end of the summer of 1998, when Dean and Mary Vander Plas had a son, they named him Ben. Dean Vander Plas had played basketball at Green Bay, for the Phoenix. Tony Bennett was a teammate. Dick Bennett was the coach. The Phoenix became champions of the Mid-Continent Conference in 1991, earned the school’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament, and pushed Michigan State right to the edge in a 60-58 loss. Dean Vander Plas scored 17 points in the defeat. The experience and the relationships would last a lifetime, and their son would carry the name.

The family histories converged again in Bloomington, Indiana on Saturday night, when Ben Vander Plas met Tony Bennett in a memorable postgame hug. Vander Plas, along with Ohio University teammate Jason Preston, led the No. 13-seeded Bobcats to a 62-58 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers, a triumph that sent coach Tony Bennett home. Some crucial 3-pointers and a 14-2 run in the second half lifted the No. 14-seed Bobcats to their first NCAA tournament victory in nine years. Ben Vander Plas scored 17 points in the victory.

“That family has meant a lot to my family over the years,” said Vander Plas. “When we got matched up, I was really excited to play against him. He's a great coach. I got to talk to him for a little bit after the game. He asked where my Dad was sitting. I pointed up there. That was a pretty cool moment with coach Bennett.”

The Bobcats (17-7) will face No. 5 seed Creighton Bluejays on Monday in the second round, with a chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012 and the second time in 57 years. Virginia (18-7) endured another dramatic conclusion to a tournament appearance. There was the 2018 first-round loss to UMBC, the first time a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1. Then the 2019 national championship, won by the narrowest of margins with an escape in the semifinal against Auburn and an overtime victory over Texas Tech in the championship game. And now this. 

Each team had been forced to deal with the consequences of the pandemic in a challenging season.  

The way here to the tournament for the Bobcats was not without its bumps in the road. The Ohio program had to deal with 10 cancellations or postponements during the season due to COVID-19, including a three-week stretch in February where the Bobcats did not play for 21 straight days. 

Virginia had to drop out of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and was forced to spend seven days in quarantine before the NCAA tournament.

Vander Plas made his impact on the game not only through scoring, but through sharing the ball as well. The 6-foot-8 junior forward ended the first half having an impact on the last three field goals of the half, with two assists and a 3-point jumper from deep center court to make it a 1-point game at the half. 

That was only the beginning for the Wisconsin native. Down one with 7:44 on the clock, Vander Plas drained two clutch 3-pointers from the left side, sending Bobcat fans in the house into a fervor and making Assembly Hall sound like a regular season Indiana game. The two 3-pointers gave Ohio a 45-40 lead over the Cavaliers, a lead the Bobcats would not relinquish.

Thirty years and five days after his father’s NCAA tournament disappointment, Ben Vander Plas was part of a celebration.  

“That’s crazy to hear,” Vander Plas said. “That’s really cool to score the same amount as my pops in the first round. That’s really crazy.”

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