BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Virginia’s unusual title defense ended with another upset loss in the NCAA Tournament, falling 62-58 to Jason Preston and Ohio on Saturday.
Some familiar problems showed up again for the fourth-seeded Cavaliers, who struggled to score during a key stretch in the second half and shot 35% from the field for the game. Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to drop its opening game in the NCAA Tournament when it lost to UMBC in 2018, but it used the setback as motivation in its run to the championship in 2019.
Last year’s NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, delaying the Cavaliers’ title defense. They just arrived in Indiana on Friday because of COVID-19 issues, and now they are heading home again.
Preston and Ben Vander Plas delivered for Ohio after leading the Bobcats to the Mid-American Conference Tournament title. Next up is No. 5 seed Creighton on Monday.
Vander Plas scored eight of his game-high 17 points during an 18-4 second-half run that erased a 38-31 deficit and gave the Bobcats a 49-42 lead. Ohio (17-7) never trailed again.
Preston finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Lunden McDay sealed the victory at the free-throw line in the closing seconds.
Sam Hauser had 15 points and nine rebounds for Virginia (18-7), which won the ACC regular-season title and then had to withdraw from the conference tournament after a positive COVID-19 test.
Virginia spent seven days in quarantine, using virtual meetings to prepare for the matchup with Ohio. After becoming the final team to arrive, it still had to go through two rounds of tests just to be cleared to play.
“The program was quarantined for seven days after the positive test, they had seven negative tests and came here and tested negatively and haven’t tested positive since then,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said on the telecast. Barnhart is the chairman of the NCAA’s selection committee.
While Virginia controlled most of the first half and looked as if it might pull away when it opened a 38-31 lead, Ohio stormed back. Mark Sears made a layup and Vander Plas connected on two long 3-pointers to give the Bobcats a 45-40 advantage with 6:58 left.
Ben Roderick scored 15 points for Ohio. Trey Murphy III had 12 points for the Cavs.
Ohio: The Bobcats weren’t at their best but they were good enough to pick up their third consecutive first-round win. They beat Michigan in 2012 and Georgetown in 2010, and now they are just one win away from making their second Sweet 16 run in a decade.
Virginia: It was a rough week for the Cavs, who weren’t even sure whether they would play until passing both rounds of testing in Indiana. It’s unclear whether the lack of practice affected their conditioning or sharpness, but they struggled as the game went on.
Virus bounces VCU
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — VCU was kicked out of the NCAA Tournament hours before its first-round game Saturday because multiple players tested positive for COVID-19, an outbreak that imperiled the 68-team event and underscored, once again, the delicate nature of staging such a spectacle amid a pandemic a year after it was canceled entirely.
The NCAA announced the cancellation — officially declaring a “no contest” — about three hours before the No. 10 seed Rams were scheduled to tip off against No. 7 seed Oregon in the West Region.
VCU’s players got the news after they had finished their pregame meal.
“It was devastating. It was heartbreaking. No dry eyes. This is what you dream of as a college player and a coach. To get it taken away like this, it’s just a heartbreaking moment in their young lives,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “It just stinks. There’s no way I can sugarcoat it.”
VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin declined to say which players tested positive, citing privacy concerns. There were multiple positive tests over two days, which is why the Rams had to forfeit, while other schools were able to play first-round games after a single COVID-19 case.
Oklahoma, for example, was in action Saturday despite guard De’Vion Harmon’s positive test. Georgia Tech lost to Loyola Chicago on Friday after ACC player of the year Moses Wright tested positive.
“I just shake my head to think we did all the right things all the way through,” McLaughlin said. “I want to make clear that this is not something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing. We don’t know how this happened, but it certainly wasn’t because of bad behavior.”
Virginia Commonwealth University, based in Richmond, is a member of Atlantic 10 Conference and best known in men’s basketball for a surprising run to the 2011 Final Four as an 11th seed.
A year after the tournament was scrapped altogether in the early days of the pandemic, the NCAA was hoping to get cleanly through the 19-day basketball festival known as March Madness, reducing arena capacities to 22% or lower and basing the whole thing in Indiana instead of sprinkling games around the country.
The governing body of college sports made all players return seven negative COVID tests before arriving, then placed all of the teams in downtown hotels and restricted their movements.
It created what it called a “controlled environment,” essentially limiting teams to the hotel, the nearby convention center for practices and the minor league baseball stadium across the street for a chance to get some fresh air.
All teams were declared healthy at Tuesday night’s deadline for allowing schools to be replaced in the bracket. Once that passed, however, there were no substitutes allowed.
That means Oregon’s path got a bit easier; the Ducks now only would need to win five games, instead of the usual six, to cut down the nets and celebrate a title. Waiting on Monday will be Iowa, the West’s No. 2 seed.
“This isn’t the way we wanted to advance, but we are excited to be moving on,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
During one 26-day stretch this season, his team had just five practices and a single game because of the sorts of coronavirus issues that interrupted so many aspects of life.
And, yes, this edition of the NCAAs already had seen signs of trouble before Saturday.
In the days leading up to the tournament, a half-dozen referees who went to dinner together before checking into their hotel were all sent home because one tested positive.
Last week, Virginia and Kansas — proud programs with past national championships — both pulled out of their conference tournaments. Virginia didn’t arrive in Indianapolis until Friday, making it the last team to get there, because it needed to clear quarantine protocols back home, and the unusual preparation couldn’t have helped the fourth-seeded Cavaliers, who were upset by Ohio on Saturday.
The first full day of action went off without a hitch Friday. Then Day 2 was well underway when a terse news release arrived: “The NCAA and the committee regret that VCU’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to play in a tournament in which they earned the right to participate.”
The NCAA said it made the decision to drop VCU from the competition in consultation with the local health department.
This wasn’t the first coronavirus issue of the season for the Rams: A positive test in January forced them to halt basketball activities and postpone a game against Davidson. But VCU resumed practice two days later and made it through the rest of the regular season without problems.
The Rams lost the Atlantic 10 title game but made it into the tournament as an at-large team. They were 19-7 heading into Saturday.
Now their postseason is over, without the chance to actually play in the Big Dance.
“It’s a reminder that we just have to stay safe,” Southern California coach Andy Enfield said after his team’s win over Drake. “And sometimes, the COVID takes twists and turns. They’re unexpected. And so I’m very sorry to hear that.”
Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team also won Saturday, called the situation “high anxiety for everything.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, (as) soon as we get a text message from the (testing) company we’ll get group texts going,” Self said. “I’m getting messages from the trainer at 2 o’clock, and I’m awake, getting ready to get the text.”
Liddell receives threats
Ohio State officials have reached out to police about threatening and insulting social media messages sophomore E.J. Liddell received following the Buckeyes’ NCAA Tournament loss on Friday.
Ohio State associate athletic director for communications Dan Wallenberg told The Associated Press he contacted police on Saturday morning about the threats Liddell received after the second-seeded Buckeyes were upset by No. 15 seed Oral Roberts 75-72 in overtime.
Liddell, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the game, revealed on his Twitter feed he received threatening messages. He posted images of the messages, including one that said “I hope you die I really do.” Other messages included racist insults.
“Honestly, what did I do to deserve this?” Liddell posted on Twitter. “I’m human.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said the language used against Liddell “is appalling and will not be tolerated.”
“To the few of you who have chosen to inappropriately rail against our players on social media, stop,” Smith said. “Hate and derision have no place in Buckeye Nation or in civil society. If you cross the line and threaten our players, you will be hearing from the authorities. That I promise you.
“I have nothing but love and respect for E.J. He epitomizes all that we hope for in our student-athletes.”
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann also defended Liddell.
“Recent social media comments to E.J. Liddell, while not from or representative of Ohio State fans, are vile, dangerous and reflect the worst of humanity,” Holtmann posted on Twitter. “E.J. is an outstanding young man who had a tremendous sophomore season and he was instrumental in our team’s success. We will take all the necessary actions to address this immediately.”
Liddell said by revealing the threats and insults he was not “saying anything negative about Ohio State fans.”
“I love you all dearly and I’ve felt nothing but appreciated since the first day I stepped on campus,” he said.
Liddell said he was confused to be targeted by the messages.
“Comments don’t get to me but I just wanna know why,” he said. “I’ve never done anything to anyone in my life to be approached like this.”
Texas Southern 66
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Juwan Howard won his first NCAA Tournament game since taking over at Michigan, guiding Mike Smith and the top-seeded Wolverines to a victory over Texas Southern.
Smith scored 18 points and Hunter Dickinson added 16 as Michigan (21-4) rolled into the second round without Isaiah Livers, who is out with a foot injury. Eli Brooks and Brandon Johns Jr. had 11 points apiece. Michael Weathers had 24 points for the Tigers (17-9).
St. Bonaventure 61
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Freshman Cameron Thomas scored 27 points in another impressive performance and his LSU teammates provided the rebounding muscle, leading the eighth-seeded Tigers (19-9) past ninth-seeded St. Bonaventure (16-5).
INDIANAPOLIS — Colorado used an early 3-point barrage to parlay its highest seeding ever into a win over Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing.
Led by freshman Jabari Walker’s 5-for-5 shooting clinic from 3-point range, the fifth-seeded Buffs (23-8) made 16 3-pointers and shot 64% from long range. Qudus Wahab led Georgetown (13-13) with 20 points.
Florida State 64,
UNC Greensboro 54
INDIANAPOLIS — RaiQuan Gray scored 17 points and Florida State began what it hopes will be another deep run under coach Leonard Hamilton, holding off 13th-seeded UNC Greensboro (21-9).
Alabama 68, Iona 55
INDIANAPOLIS — Herb Jones scored 20 points and second-seeded Alabama (25-6) pried open a tight game to beat coach Rick Pitino’s underdogs from Iona (12-6).
UC Santa Barbara 62
INDIANAPOLIS — Christian Bishop made both ends of a one-and-one with 16 seconds left to give fifth-seeded Creighton the lead, and the Bluejays (21-8) hung on to beat 12th-seeded UC Santa Barbara (22-5).
Southern Cal 72,
INDIANAPOLIS — Evan Mobley had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 6 seed Southern California (23-7) used smothering defense to beat Drake (26-5).
Eastern Washington 84
INDIANAPOLIS — David McCormack returned from his COVID-19-caused hiatus just in time to rescue No. 3 seed Kansas 21-8), piling up 22 points and nine rebounds as the slow-starting Jayhawks rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to beat No. 14 seed Eastern Washington (16-8).
Grand Canyon 74
INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa (22-8) got 24 points from Luka Garza and avoided the early NCAA Tournament exit that befell other high seeds with a victory over Grand Canyon (17-7).
Bowling Green 77, Dayton 76
The Dayton Flyers opened the game with a 16-0 run but lost to Bowling Green in the consolation bracket Saturday.
The loss at the UW Health Sports Facility in Rockford, Ill., brought Dayton’s season to an end, though its chance of winning the NIT ended a day earlier with a 70-56 loss to Northern Iowa in the first round. Every team in the tournament was guaranteed at least two games.
Ottawa-Glandorf graduate Kadie Hempfling had eight points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals for BGSU, which lost Friday 72-65 to Creighton. Hempfling had 22 points, seven rebounds, five steals, three assists and two blocks.