During Tuesday’s presser Mick Cronin had this to say of the Bearcats second half against Lipscomb “It’s just the hardest part of basketball. Trying to get five guys to play as one, in sync and sharing the ball, and when you do it, it’s a beautiful thing. The game is fun to watch”.
Thursday night’s 55-54 dramatic overtime win over No. 19 Iowa State was a lot of things, but it certainly wasn’t a ‘beautiful thing’ or ‘fun to watch’. The defensive-focused Bearcats held the Cyclones to their lowest point total at home since 2009 (despite five extra minutes) and worst shooting percentage of the season at 37%. The ‘Cats had their own offensive woes, but a 46-34 rebounding advantage and timely free throws from Jacob Evans won the game for Cincinnati.
The game started on a sour note for the Bearcats who trailed 15-9 after the first 10 minutes of action. UC seemed tight offensively and were forcing bad shots late in the shot clock. The Bearcats eventually settled down thanks to rebounding and skillful interior passes by Gary Clark and Kyle Washington. Clark, who was a game-time decision because of an ankle injury he suffered in his previous game, had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and three blocks. Cincinnati ended the half on a 10-2 run to take a 25-24 lead into the break.
During the first half, Troy Caupain became the 50th player in Bearcats history to score 1,000 career points with a free throw at the 8:22 mark. He scored seven points in the game and added 10 rebounds and an assist. He’s the sixth player in the Mick Cronin era to reach 1,000 points, joining Sean Kilpatrick (2,145), Deonta Vaughn (1,885), Yancy Gates (1,485), Cashmere Wright (1,317) and Dion Dixon (1,281).
The second half was a roller coaster. The lead changed nine times, with Iowa State getting leads of four and six points late in the game. They were ahead 42-36 with 8:18 remaining when the Bearcats went on an 8-0 run to take back the lead. Iowa State then responded with an 8-2 run of its own to set the stage for the final two minutes of action.
Trailing 50-48 with 27 seconds left, Jacob Evans tried to make an ill-advised pass and turned the ball over to the Cyclones. Unable to settle down and take control of the game, the Cyclones immediately turned the ball back over to Cincinnati as Evans redeemed himself with a steal. Clark then hit a jumper with just five seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Bearcats fans have seen this before. Time and time again Cincinnati has lost these close games; typically in heartbreaking fashion. Last night was be different. Trailing 54-53 with 20 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down to just two seconds, Iowa State fouled Jacob Evans as he was moving towards the basket, sending him to the free throw line for a one-and-one. With ice in his veins, Evans made both free throws to give the Bearcats a 55-54 lead. Iowa State would have one last chance, but a Nazareth Mitrou-Long missed three pointer, followed by a scramble for the ball as time expired spelled the end for the Cyclones.
According to KenPom these two teams entered the game evenly matched as the 25th and 26th most efficient teams in the country. Their advanced statistics were nearly identical across the board with the only significant exception being Adjusted Tempo. Iowa State is known for playing a much quicker pace than the Bearcats, thanks to its four-guard offense, featuring senior point guard Monte Morris. This was a noticeable difference during the game as the Bearcats continued to try to slow the tempo down and get Washington and Clark involved while wasting as much clock as possible. The strategy worked, and put Cincinnati in position to steal the win even though it only made 3-of-21 from three while the bench only scored two points.
This is a very big win for the Bearcats. Road wins against Top 25 opponents are very rare. In fact, this one snapped the Cyclones 37-game homecourt, non-conference winning streak. It was the fourth longest such streak in the nation, dating back to November of 2011. The Cyclones have now lost two games this year by a combined three points.
Next up for the Bearcats will be a visit from Bowling Green on Sunday. A win on Sunday could set up a potential showdown of two Top 25 teams when the Bearcats visit Butler the following Saturday.