It would be nice if I could write this like a good ole' Bearcats game summary. I could tell you Cincinnati won this one with great defense and grit, but I am not sure that was the case. East Carolina University (ECU) shot just 27% from the field and 22.7% from three. To be honest, after watching the game - I am not sure how much of that had to do with good defensive play from the Bearcats or simply poor shooting from the Pirates. Nevertheless, Cincinnati held ECU to just 48 points, tied for the least they've allowed all season (Wagner scored 48 as well). They allowed ECU to shoot 22 threes, which is one way teams can upset you (along with free throws, which I'll discuss later).
This game was over pretty quickly. Cincinnati led 38-22 at the half and it seemed that ECU was content on chucking up threes and hoping for the best. Putting away teams early is something that last year's team struggled with. The size of this year's team; however, allows them to out rebound teams by double-digits (e.g. 10 tonight) and control a game. In addition to defense and rebounding, Cincinnati shot a respectable 47.3% from the field, and 36.4% from deep. We also had a Zack Tobler sighting tonight and it finally happened... In his two years as a walk on, tonight - with just 43 seconds to go, Zack hit his first career field goal. Congrats to Zack. His shot and the team's great reaction can be seen at the end of the highlight video below.
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While three Bearcats scored in double figures (KJ - 12, Ellis - 12, and Caupain - 10), the player of the night for Cincinnati was easily true freshman Gary Clark. His 8 points, 4 blocks, 4 steals, and 2 assists make for a nice stat line, but high career high 16 rebounds was something special. Somewhere around halfway through the second half, I had to look up his stats to see if he was on double-double or even triple-double watch. Unfortunately, neither happened, but you can easily see how he is the only player in North Carolina high school history to chalk up a rare quadruple-double (22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocks, 10 assists). I know I am not the only one out there that has fallen in love with the way this kid plays basketball. Glad he's on our side.
Tonight was not without its areas for improvement. Specifically, I noticed three areas of concern from tonight's game. First, Cincinnati had 12 turnovers. They really should be able to keep the turnovers to single digits, especially against teams like ECU. Protecting the ball is going to be essential if they are to beat teams like UCONN and Temple down the road.
Second, 13-23 (56.5%) from the free throw line is unacceptable. Ole Miss almost beat Kentucky tonight taking them into overtime - How? They shot 19-22 from the free throw line. That is how you beat teams that are better than you. If Ole Miss would have shot as poorly from the line as UC did tonight (56.5%), they would have lost by 7 in regulation and nobody would be talking about them.
Finally, I have to mention Shaq Thomas. It was strange when Shaq didn't start, but it was even stranger when 10-minutes passed and he still hadn't seen the floor. During the post game press conference Larry Davis (see below video) was asked about Shaq Thomas being held out early and his reply was "Coach's decision, coach's decision" as he shook his head. That typically means a player violated a team rule, but Shaw doesn't really come across as the type of player to have behavioral issues. Tonight, he played a total of 9-minutes, when he had been averaging over 23-minutes per game. Something to keep an eye on.
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The next week and a half could decide the conference champion. Cincinnati heads to UCONN Saturday, then Memphis (1/15/14), and comes back home against Temple (1/17/14). All three games will be nationally televised (UCONN on ESPN2, Mamphis on ESPN or ESPN2, and Temple on ESPNU) and on WatchESPN. If Cincinnati can win 2 of those 3 games, they will likely be in the running for conference champion. If they win all of them, the conference may be all but won. But these will be very tough games against really good teams. I think UCONN and Temple have more talent than UC, but Cincinnati is more cohesive at this point. Memphis is in a rebuilding year, according to their Josh Pastner, but they could easily upset the Bearcats. Hopefully, we will be having a happy January.
-Daniele "Da" Bologna