After four overtimes, an incredible individual performance from Troy Caupain and some March Madness magic, Cincinnati falls to UConn, 104-97 in the second round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The previous two matchups between these two teams were gritty, hard-fought, exciting contests and this one was even better for the casual fan.
With Gary Clark suffering from an ankle sprain that reportedly occurred late in the practice week, Caupain scored a career-high 37 points, as he completely took over the game late and willed the Bearcats into each of the four overtime periods. This is one of those "rollercoaster of emotion" games for Bearcats fans.
The first half went about as well as Cincinnati could hope for, especially with Clark ailing. The Bearcats jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead with just about everyone getting involved early for Cincinnati. The Huskies played a little uptight in the early-going and the Bearcats capitalized.
With Clark's minutes being managed carefully by Mick Cronin and Octavius Ellis dealing with early foul trouble, Coreontae DeBerry got an opportunity to build upon his strong 10-point outing against SMU in the regular season finale. The senior did just just that, scoring six points in the first half while making his presence felt in the paint, adding two blocks and four rebound in the half.
The other star of the early going was senior Farad Cobb who was slumping entering the tournament. Cobb was essential for Cincinnati, knocking down three three-point shots and heading into the break with 11 points. Between Caupain's eight points and Clark's seven, the Bearcats managed to extend their lead up a 13 points. UConn continued to hang around with Rodney Purvis leading the Huskies with 12 points.
Cincinnati entered the half leading 36-27 behind a solid shooing performance. The Bearcats shot 41.9% from the field in the first half and held UConn to 35.7%. Cobb's three-point shooting also gave Cincinnati the advantage from deep (4-of-10 compared to UConn's 3-of-11) and Cincinnati's defense was suffocating, forcing the Huskies into six turnovers while adding four blocks.
If the first half was a best-case scenario for Cincinnati, the second half was a nightmare. UConn closed the gap quickly, dialing in from distance and relying on their defense to limit the Bearcats offensive output. The Huskies rattled off a 24-9 run to open the second half.
UConn would lead by as much as seven points with just over 3:30 remaining in the half, with seemingly all the momentum. Cincinnati responded to the 62-55 deficit with a Caupain jumper, followed by a Clark steal, forced by Caupain and an immediate three-pointer from Cobb. In a matter of 14 seconds, Cincinnati closed the gap to 62-60 with 2:15 remaining.
Both teams traded possessions, giving UConn the ball, approaching the one-minute mark. The Huskies turned the ball over, giving the ball back to the Bearcats. Caupain drew a foul on Purvis with 35 seconds left, sending the junior guard to the line. Caupain hit both free throws, tying the game at 62.
UConn couldn't convert their next possession, giving Cincinnati one last possession. Caupain's driving attempt was blocked by Amida Brimah, sending the game into overtime.
Ellis opened the scoring in the extra period, which was the ninth straight point scored by the Bearcats. Both teams traded baskets back and forth with Caupain and UConn's Daniel Hamilton driving the action.
With Cincinnati down, 67-66, the Bearcats got the ball to Ellis who missed a tough jumper. However, Clark, for second time in overtime, was there for the offensive rebound. Clark got the ball back to Ellis who drew the foul and knocked down one of his two free throws. At 67-67, neither team could find a bucket in the final 1:14, sending them into a second overtime.
In the second overtime period, Cincinnati jumped out to a quick 71-67 lead before UConn came back, eventually tying the game at 73. Following a nice defensive stand, Caupain stepped up with a clutch floater in the middle of the paint over the UConn defense, giving Cincinnati a 75-73 lead with 15 seconds left. UConn took the ball out of bounds immediately, went down and tied the game up on a Jalen Adams layup. Caupain's desperation shot didn't fall, sending the game into a third overtime period.
Caupain continued his clutch showing into the third overtime, responding to a Sterling Gibbs three-pointer with one of his own to tie the game, yet again, this time at 78. Caupain would again respond to UConn after an Adams jumper. Caupain drew a foul and knocked down both free throws, earning his 29th and 30th points of the game and tying the game at 80.
Purvis gave the Huskies the lead again on a layup, but Kevin Johnson got in on the action only seconds later with his first three-pointer of the game, giving Cincinnati an 83-82 lead with 1:23 remaining. UConn didn't stay down long though with Hamilton drawing a foul on their next possession. He hit both free throws for the Huskies, giving the lead back to UConn, 84-83.
On Cincinnati's next possession, Caupain got two UConn defenders to up in the air and knocked down another tough shot to give Cincinnati an 85-84 lead. Hamilton drew another foul, but only knocked down one of his two free throws. That setup a ridiculous string of events.
First, Caupain missed a three-point attempt with seven seconds left. Ellis got the offensive rebound, kicked it out to Johnson, who knocked down his second three-pointer of the game with only 0.8 seconds left on the clock. In the chaos of hitting a three that gave Cincinnati an 88-85 lead, the Bearcats didn't get up on defense, allowing Adams to collect the in-bounds pass and heave up a desperation shot from beyond half-court. He banked it in, sending us into a fourth overtime.
The fourth overtime was played mostly from the free throw line. Ellis opened the scoring by hitting one of two free throws. Adams knocked down a layup for the Huskies, but Caupain knocked down two free throws on Cincinnati's next possession, giving the Bearcats a 91-90 lead with just over three minutes left in the latest extra period.
UConn made a push to close out the game with the Huskies taking a five-point lead with 1:37 left. Caupain responded with another huge shot, this one a three to close the gap to two points. Facing a 98-95 deficit, Cincinnati couldn't claw their way back as UConn knocked down their free throws and closed out the game. The Bearcats were unable to recover from the half-court heave at the end of the third overtime that gave UConn life again. Cincinnati lost the marathon, 104-97.
Caupain was ridiculous in the losing effort, scoring a career-high 37 points to lead all scorers. Cobb, Ellis and Clark added 14, 13 and 12 points, respectively, but it was all Caupain, all the time over the final hour of the game. Caupain went 11-of-30 from the field, 4-of-9 from three and 11-of-12 from the line. He had 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block.
The stats from this one are a lot to decipher. UConn shot better from the field (43.9% compared to UC's 37.8%) and were ridiculous from the free throw line, hitting 22-of-24 (91.7%) attempts.
While this loss hurts, it doesn't mean that Cincinnati's season is over. Many experts still project Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament field and it's hard to belittle the Bearcats following a game such as this. We will just have to wait and see come Sunday when the NCAA bracket is revealed.