For awhile, it didn’t seem like Virginia would have a chance to compete in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. A positive coronavirus test within the program force the Cavaliers to withdraw from the ACC tournament, and Virginia didn’t arrive in Indianapolis until Friday afternoon.
On Saturday night, Virginia showed that rust from the lay-off as they shot just 35% from the field and 26% from three in a 62-58 loss to 13-seed Ohio. Sam Hauser led Virginia with 15 points, but stretch of 10+ minutes without a field goal saw a seven-point lead turn into a seven-point deficit. Trey Murphy finished with 12 points in the loss, and Jay Huff closed out his Virginia career with a nine point, six rebound performance.
The Bobcats were a popular upset pick thanks to NBA prospect point guard Jason Preston, who finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists. Reece Beekman and Casey Morsell did a fantastic job on him defensively, but the tide turned for Ohio when they started working him more off-ball.
Virginia was without Justin McKoy, and Jay Huff’s foul troubles made that absence even more glaring.
The Cavaliers took care of the ball well, turning it over just three times, but Ohio turned those three turnovers into eight points.
Ohio got on the board first with a three, but Murphy responded with one of his own to knot things up. Virginia pushed its lead to 9-3 with two made threes from Huff and Clark before Ohio got a tough layup to fall to cut the lead to four. Neither team scored for just about two minutes until Hauser connected on two free throws to put the Hoos in double digits.
Preston’s first bucket — a three — made it 11-8 in favor of Virginia with 12:36 to play in the first half. The two teams traded buckets, with Ohio answering every time Virginia took a slight lead. Beekman, who got the unenviable assignment of guarding Preston for the majority of the first half, came up with a huge block after stellar one-on-one defensive play. Morsell connected with a long two on the other end to give Virginia the lead once again.
Virginia pushed its lead to four with a big three from Morsell — after the pass careened off of Caffaro’s face — and Murphy made it 24-17 with his second three of the game. Four straight from Ohio cut the lead back to three, but Hauser’s second bucket of the day gave Virginia a little breathing room as the clock approached two minutes to play in the first half.
A missed three by Hauser led to a made one by the Bobcats, cutting the lead to two. Clark drove the baseline for a reverse layup, but Vander Plas got his first three to go as the clock ran out on the first half to send Virginia into the break with a 28-27 lead.
Ohio and Virginia had nearly identical first half performances as both teams went 10-for-28 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free throw line. Virginia hit one more three (5-for-17), shooting 29% from deep. Hauser went 0-for-4 in the first half from three, but scored six points. Murphy and Clark each added six points apiece in the first half, and Hauser led the Hoos with five rebounds.
Virginia took care of the ball — turning it over just once — but didn’t get any points off of the five Ohio turnovers. The Hoos limited Preston to just five first half points, but the talented point guard dished four assists and grabbed six rebounds.
Hauser opened the second-half scoring with his first three of the game, giving Virginia a four-point cushion once again. Wilson responded with a floater in the lane over Huff, who picked up his third foul with 16:55 left on the clock. Two free throws from Ohio brought the Bobcats back within one, but Hauser hit another jumper to make it 34-31.
Morsell made a nice baseline move to get to the rim for the easy finish, but Virginia couldn’t pull away further after a miss from Ohio. Another strong defensive stop by the Hoos led to a run out for Clark, and the bucket in transition tied Virginia’s biggest lead of the game at seven.
Six straight points from the Bobcats cut the lead to one, but Hauser drew a foul and made both to make it 40-37 with just over 10 minutes remaining. Virginia’s offense stalled, giving Ohio the opening they needed. Eight straight points put the Bobcats on top 45-40, putting pressure on Virginia to come up with something on offense.
The Cavaliers got back within two a few times, but Ohio delivered a dagger three with just over a minute left. Virginia kept the pressure on with a couple late makes and a forced turnover, but Ohio got the job done at the line to seal the deal.
Virginia finishes the 2021 season with a record of 18-7.