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Bearcats fail to close out the Orange in a heartbreaking 57-55 loss at the Carrier Dome
I promised I'd be more positive on this blog. But, losing by two points at the Carrier Dome to the #3 team in the country is no time to be negative. So, positivity won't have hard to come by in this post.
Yes, the Bearcats had every chance to pull off a resume-building win on the road yesterday. Syracuse was coming off a huge road win at previous #1 Louisville Saturday so knocking off the Orange would have been a huge boost to UC's chances for a higher seed come March. In the end, they have more things to work on in the next eight days before returning to Fifth Third Arena to take on Rutgers.
The debate was waged on twitter yesterday that it was a blown opportunity for the Bearcats. While true to an extent, I don't think it was a choke job by any means. Losing a 7-point lead with 30 seconds remaining would have been a choke job. Up seven with five minutes remaining and losing, however, is not.
Sure, you can make the argument that they should have won. I'd go along with that. To say it was an unforgivable loss is a little overboard. They had their chances. They didn't take advantage of them. They had the same chances against Marquette and they did take advantage of them. If you want to argue that there's a concerning pattern of not putting teams away and it coming back to haunt - like the New Mexico and St. John's games - in addition to Syracuse then yeah you might be onto something. But, they have won their share of tight ballgames (Alabama and Marquette) and you can bet there will be several more to get your heart racing. It's Bearcats basketball. It's never easy.
I took several positives away from yesterday's game. Kilpatrick continued his hot shooting. That's been very nice to see in the last two games for sure. They got offensive contributions from Cheikh Mbodj for a change. Nine points is always welcome from the big guy. Sure he missed a key free throw, but it was the Bearcats' only missed free throw of the game (another positive). After Saturday's overtime win over Marquette, they had to quickly turn around and play in one of the toughest venues in the conference and almost ended Syracuse's 34-game home court winning streak. That's nothing to scoff at. Titus Rubles while only scoring five points, also dished out five assists and grabbed five rebounds. No, he shouldn't be shooting threes, but that kind of all-around effort is always welcome. Finally, seeing Cashmere Wright return to action and not give much indication that his injury was going to linger was a very good sign for the future of this team. I've said it before and I'll say it again: he's the most valuable player on this team. For them to make any kind of run in March, Cash needs to be out there and healthy.
What I didn't like: (those of you who know me best know this is coming) Justin Jackson stinks on offense. That's all. I don't want to go into a tirade. The Bearcats got four points (all Jackson) from the bench. Jermaine Sanders, after making his first two shots Saturday against Marquette, has gone into hibernation again. Ge'Lawn Guyn and Shaq Thomas were non-factors. As was David Nyarsuk. That's just about it. Any more would require digging for little things and you can do that every game.
So now we wait. After playing four games in 10 days, this team finally gets some time off to heal and get their legs back. At 4-3, they are above water but need to go on a run where they can separate themselves from the pack. That pack, by the way, is a five-way tie at 3-3 with Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Rutgers, and St. John's. The Bearcats face a stretch of six games (Rutgers, @Seton Hall, @Providence, Pitt, Villanova, Georgetown) where they should be favored to win in each. There is the chance to get on a roll and provide separation from the pack.
Oh, one more positive: having the next eight days off allowed Mick to go on a little recruiting visit to see top target Jermaine Lawrence. It's no secret how sought-after he is. A "face up" power forward would be a welcome addition to this offense. The battle is said to be between UNLV, UC, and St. John's. But I think most figure it's between UC and Lawrence's hometown Red Storm with a rumored announce date of February 3. These things usually get dragged out much longer, but here's hoping Jermaine sticks to that. And here's also hoping Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine Sanders, and Shaq Thomas have been able to convince him to come play his college ball in Cincinnati.