Caught your breath yet?
The Bearcats, once again, took the game down to the wire and, for the third straight contest, came away with the win, defeating Connecticut 58-57 on a clutch Gary Clark three-point play with 12 seconds remaining. Clark took the ball to the rim, drew the foul and calmly gave Cincinnati the one-point lead; a lead UConn couldn't overcome in the closing seconds, despite three attempts.
With the win, Cincinnati pushes their record to 16-6 overall and 6-3 in the American Athletic Conference, trailing only SMU in the conference standings. The Bearcats earned a much needed road win, which boosts their postseason resume, and should only contribute to what feels like building momentum for the Bearcats heading into February.
It wasn't all good for Cincinnati fans though, as this game felt a little too familiar for much of the way. Both offenses struggled as UConn's interior defense played Octavius Ellis and Clark tough throughout and the Cincinnati defense stifled the Huskies offensive output. Cincinnati only hit 21-of-55 (38.2%) of their shots from the field (and 8-of-21, or 38.1% from three) with UConn hitting a nearly identical percentage on 23-of-60 (38.3%) shooting (and 6-of-16, or 37.5% from three).
The shots never really came easy for either team, but it was Cincinnati who first found a bit of a rhythm. Clark, somewhat poetically given his late game heroics, scored the game's first points with a free throw and a three-pointer. Clark would assist Ellis on the next basket giving Cincinnati a 6-0 lead before UConn got on the board.
The Huskies would eventually take a 16-15 lead over the Bearcats with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half, as each team struggled to score. It wasn't until late in the half that shots began to fall a bit. With just over five minutes remaining before the break, Cincinnati led 19-18 when Troy Caupain hit a three-pointer, pushing the Bearcats lead to four.
UConn responded with a Kentan Facey layup to cut the score to 22-20 in Cincinnati's favor. Farad Cobb knocked down another three for the Bearcats, pushing their lead up to five points, but then UConn's Sterling Gibbs found a rhythm, hitting three straight deep threes against Cincinnati's matchup zone defense.
A Coreontae DeBerry layup broke up the onslaught, but after those three shots from Gibbs, the Huskies led 29-27 with just over two minutes remaining in the half. Another deep three, this time from UConn's Rodney Purvis, plus layups from Gibbs and Shonn Miller resulted in a UConn 36-31 lead, finishing off a 16-6 run for the Huskies as they closed out the half.
The halftime stats had Cincinnati fans experiencing flashbacks to early season contests that were ultimately decided by poor shooting numbers for the Bearcats and outstanding three point percentage from their opponent. Entering the half, Cincinnati was only shooting 11-of-29 (37.9%) from the field and 4-of-12 (33.3%) from three, while the Huskies were hitting 14-of-28 (50%) of their field goals and were 5-of-8 (62.5%) from beyond the arc.
Cincinnati came out firing in the second half though, clawing their way back from a 38-31 deficit to a 45-43 lead with under 14 minutes left to play, as Cobb, Ellis, Caupain and Clark knocked down shots.
Each team traded blows from then on out with UConn going cold from deep and Cincinnati struggling to find a basket. Cobb would hit another three pointer to cap off a 13-point individual effort, to go along with six rebounds. After that, it was the "Gary Clark and Jacob Evans" show with each combining for Cincinnati's last nine points, with each more important than the last.
With just over seven minutes remaining in the game, Evans hit a three to give the Bearcats a 53-50 lead before UConn responded with five unanswered, giving them a 55-53 lead. Fans then watched as neither team could find the back of the net for over four minutes of game time. Cincinnati's defense buckled down, forcing UConn into two back-to-back shot clock violations in the process.
UConn's Jalen Adams broke the draught with a layup to push the Huskies lead out to four points with a 57-53 score and only 1:45 remaining. After Evans missed a three on the next Bearcats offensive possession, Cincinnati only had 1:27 to make up the four points deficit. Evans intercepted a Huskies pass and took it the length of the floor, finishing the play with a layup on the other end, cutting the Huskies lead to two with one minute left.
UConn couldn't score on their next possession, giving the Bearcats a chance with under 20 seconds left, trailing 55-57. Cincinnati went to Clark, who took the ball inside, pump faked, drew the foul and sank the bucket in the process, tying the game with him heading to the line. With only 12 seconds left, Clark calmly hit the free throw, giving the Bearcats a 58-57 lead. UConn had three shots, but couldn't score in the closing second, giving Cincinnati the key road win.
Beast mode. @Gary11_Clark pic.twitter.com/nHQXn5sKJL— Oh Varsity! (@OhVarsity) January 29, 2016
Cincinnati had three players in double-digits with Clark and Cobb each scoring 13. Ellis had seven rebounds to go with his 10 points. Caupain scored eight points with Evans adding seven points when it was all said and done. Clark also registered four blocks and six rebounds while Evans swatted away three shots himself.
It wasn't a pretty win, but Cincinnati pulled it out on the road against a quality opponent. It was a gritty performance from the Bearcats who have given themselves a chance heading into February.
Cincinnati next takes the floor at home against South Florida next Thursday, February 4 at 8 PM, where they will look to win their fourth game in a row.