I’m sorry to do this, but here comes a major sports cliche: The story of yesterday’s game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the USF Bulls was a tale of two halves.
I appreciate your eye roll, but it really was. That’s not just me being a lazy sports writer on this Sunday morning. If you look at the performance from the Bearcats in the first 20 minutes as compared to the second 20, you will notice a distinct difference in the quality of play.
Let’s start with the first half, when shots weren’t falling and turnovers were plentiful. UC had to climb out of a 10-point deficit to take a 35-33 lead at halftime. It got into so much trouble because of a 34.8 percent success rate on field goal attempts. But in the second half, the Bearcats were unstoppable, netting 70 percent of their shots. You already know this if you watched the game/read our recap, but the Jekyll and Hyde performance is instructive going forward.
It’s one thing to gift USF, a team that has lost all five of its American Athletic Conference games, with a 10-point advantage. Such a slow start obviously didn’t end up hurting the bottom line. However, the better teams in the conference, especially Wichita State, will not be so kind if they take a double-digit lead. It’s also extremely unlikely that a 70 percent shooting effort will be allowed in such contests.
Another thing that probably won’t save the Bearcats like it did in this one is free throw shooting. We recently touched on the struggles they have had at the charity stripe, but that postulation went right out the window against the Bulls. UC built its come back on not just efficient shooting from the field, but by capitalizing on the freebies. In total, the Bearcats knocked down 27-of-31 free throw attempts, good for an 87.1 percent success rate. It was an incredible performance for a team that is shooting 69.2 percent from there on the season.
Now let’s get back to that big second half. The Bearcats finished the game with an effective field goal percentage of 59.3, compared to one of 47.8 from the Bulls. The Bearcats’ mark was undoubtedly enhanced by a rather stellar 5-of-7 shooting performance from long range in the final 20 minutes. With those five threes, UC nearly matched USF’s field goal total for the entire frame, as the Bulls went just 6-for-24 following a 57.1 percent shooting effort in the first 20 minutes.
As far as rebounds go, the Bearcats were able to win in that arena, grabbing 30 to USF’s 22. Embedded in that total was an offensive redound percentage of 42.9, which was much higher than USF’s mark of 26.1 despite the Bulls starting 6’11” Malik Martin and 7’2” Nikola Scekic. Gary Clark can be thanked for a third of UC’s work on the boards, as he came down with 10 rebounds to go with 10 points.
A last morsel to chew on was the difference in bench play. This was an area that the Bearcats did not excel in, as Mick Cronin showed that he will lean on the top members of the rotation when things aren’t going right. The Bulls outscored the Bearcats 34-14 in bench points, paced by 22 from Payton Banks. Of course, Banks tied for the most minutes played by a USF player, so he wasn’t exactly a typical reserve, but this speaks more to the depth of the Bearcats, who have guys like Nysier Brooks, Keith Williams and Tre Scott, who just didn’t get a lot of playing time.
As we close the book on this game and look forward to Tuesday’s matchup with UCF, there still isn’t a ton to complain about, but mostly because UC played to perfection in that second half.
Best Individual Stat Line
Clark had a double-double and Jarron Cumberland had a team-high 18 points on 11 shots, but I’m going to give this one to Kyle Washington. Although he only made 3-of-7 shots from the floor, the senior forward was a big reason UC was so effective at the line. He made all eight of his free throws and finished with 14 points. In addition, he blocked a season-high three shots to go with six rebounds.