‘BVP’ was MVP of Virginia’s win over Tar Heels on both ends of the floor

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: Jon Golden

North Carolina held a seven-point lead early in the second half of Tuesday’s game at Virginia, and the Cavaliers needed a hero.

Who better than someone that plays with reckless abandon to ride to the rescue? He didn’t have a cape or mask or super power, but what Ben Vander Plas brought to the court was all that Tony Bennett needed — extreme aggression.

Bennett had openly complained about his team’s lack of “blue-collar” basketball in a close loss at Pitt the week before. Carolina brought the physicality to Charlottesville and UVA answered, Vander Plas in particular, especially in the second half.

Vander Plas, a graduate transfer from Ohio University, a guy who Bennett believed would make a true impact on this year’s Virginia team, indeed rode to the rescue. He triggered the Cavaliers’ 23-6 run that left the Tar Heels in a 10-point deficit (52-42) with 9:22 to play.

During that span, “BVP” nailed a pair of 3-pointers from the top of the arc, scored a dunk in transition, banked in a jumper and tossed in a couple of free throws for good measure. And while UNC fought its way back into contention late in the game, cutting UVA’s lead to three on two occasions, Vander Plas was working hard on the boards and playing defense against Carolina freshman big man Jalen Washington. 

Bennett went to a smaller lineup for most of the second half, moving the 6-foot-8 Vander Plas to the five position, where he was responsible for defending the much larger Washington. Washington replaced the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder, Armando Bacot, who left the game in pain early, after suffering an ankle injury, and didn’t return.

Turned out, UVA didn’t have an answer for Washington either — at least in the first half — as the 6-10, 225-pound Tar Heel forward put up 12 points (5 for 7 FG) and dominated the paint against Kadin Shedrick and friends.

Vander Plas has strength, mobility and quick hands that bothered Washington, who scored only one point and missed all four of his field-goal attempts in the second half, as Bennett didn’t substitute the final 15 minutes of the game.

After Virginia held on for the win, with Vander Plas getting a huge rebound and a transition dunk to seal the deal in a 65-58 win — the Cavaliers’ eighth-straight win over the Tar Heels at JPJ — the grad transfer was all smiles.

He deserved it, after posting a team-high 17 points (14 in the second half), making 6 of 10 shots (3 of 7 from the arc), pulling down 8 rebounds, blocking a career-high 3 shots, grabbing 2 steals and dishing out an assist, while playing lockdown defense against Washington.

“You know, he’s competitive and that’s one thing I have liked about him,” Bennett said of Vander Plas. “He’s had some ups and downs, but he’s kept on. He’s going to lay it on the line and he wants to win and he’s about the team, so whatever it takes.

“That’s how his father was … I played with his dad, so I know that, and that was one of the reasons we were really excited to get him.”

For those unaware of the back story, Vander Plas’ father, Dean, played basketball at Green Bay alongside Bennett and for Bennett’s father, Dick. They made it to an NIT appearance in 1990, followed by an NCAA Tournament bid in 1991. Dean Vander Plas thought so much of the Bennett family that he named his son “Bennett,” shortened to Ben.

When Tony Bennett was trying to lure Vander Plas to UVA after last season, he later joked that he would have to be the world’s worst recruiter if he couldn’t land a guy named for him.

It hasn’t all been fun and games of late though, because Vander Plas’ shooting touch temporarily abandoned him. In the four games leading up to Carolina, including two of UVA’s three losses, BVP was a combined 5 of 18 from the floor. In the Cavaliers’ other loss — to Houston — he was an ineffective Oh-for-7.

No wonder he was out on the JPJ court two and a half hours before game time Wednesday night, working on his shot. Normally, he said, he warms up that early in the arena’s practice gym, but this time used the main court.

“Obviously the last couple of weeks shooting haven’t been the greatest for me, but just continuing to work at it,” the mustachioed Vander Plas smiled. “Shout out to Johnny (Carpenter, director of player personnel) and Isaiah (Wilkins, grad assistant). They’re in the gym with me every day shooting.

Photo: UVA Athletics

“Everybody is always just telling me to keep shooting, almost to the point where it gets like, ‘I got it guys,’ but they stay on me. Just seeing that first one going in helped. Once you see the first one going in, the confidence goes up.”

UNC coach Hubert Davis said that UVA’s small lineup was extremely effective, and that Vander Plas causes problems because he’s a big that can shoot from the outside, making opponents choose their poison.

“You put a traditional big on him and now he has the ability to space, and in transition, he’s not going to the front of the rim, he’s spotting up from 3, and that’s different,” Davis pointed out about BVP. “Then, if you put a smaller guy on him, he has the ability, he’s big enough and skilled enough to be able to post up. He played really well in the second half.”

Bennett, who likes Vander Plas’ completeness, his passing ability, his ability to screen and play defense, credited him for playing with “reckless abandonment.”

“He’s had some games that I won’t say he won by himself, but he’s been the difference for us in a number of games, and the second half was crucial,” Bennett said.

BVP’s defense was a pretty hair-chested effort as well.

“When we started matching up, I think Ben’s physicality or his weight, his girth, his physique … I don’t want to offend anybody, everything is so sensitive nowadays … helped,” Bennett chuckled about his 236-pound forward. “So [Washington] couldn’t move as much, and Ben’s got good hands. He kind of walled up and got under him.”

Vander Plas said because Carolina was trying to feed Washington in the post, he was focusing on forcing the Tar Heels’ big man to catch the ball further out.

The move to a smaller lineup and BVP on Washington was one of several halftime adjustments Bennett made that were effective against the Tar Heels, who have now lost six games this season.

Offensively, Vander Plas gave Virginia another weapon. While he is an effective 3-point shooter, he has more diversity with his shot, which helped. As Bennett pointed out, “We can’t live and die with the 3.”

As long as BVP continues to make shots, that shouldn’t be a problem. Expect to see him back on the main floor taking shots early as a rule.

“I might have to make that part of the main routine,” BVP smiled.

Good idea.