It was supposed to be the biggest challenge of the new year, but that’s not what happened. No, instead of going down to the wire, the now No. 14 Cincinnati Bearcats embarrassed the SMU Mustangs on Sunday. The 76-56 win featured the largest margin of victory in the series since SMU handed the Bearcats a 21-point setback in 2014.
The defending American Athletic Conference champions just didn’t seem to have the same punch as they did a year ago, especially on offense. So take a deep breath as well go down into the depths on this one.
The most notable stat from this game has to be SMU’s field goal total in the first half. The Bearcats just didn’t let the Mustangs get easy looks, forcing them to shoot just 30 percent from the field in those first 20 minutes. That led to a total of six field goals. Six! I won’t insult your intelligence by informing you that that is not a lot, but its pretty incredible that Jacob Evans nearly had as many field goals in the period by himself (four).
UC’s defensive proclivities were an annoyance for the Mustangs all Sunday night. Not only did the Bearcats only allow 37.5 percent shooting overall, they only surrendered a 6-of-19 showing from three-point range. Leading scorer Shake Milton, who is one of Evans’ biggest challengers for AAC Player of the Year honors, (yes, that campaign is already under way) did make half of his shots, but he only took 10 and made just 1-of-4 from three-point range. It was that attention to detail (i.e. SMU’s best players) that played such a large role in an equally gigantic win.
It wasn’t just about making the Mustangs take bad shots or miss good ones; it was also about cashing in on their mistakes. UC is pretty skilled at that, as it has the 30th-most steals in the country. However, the Bearcats managed to put together an impressive showing in points off of turnovers (26) despite having only seven thefts. Interestingly enough, that didn’t mean UC scored more points on the fast break. SMU won that battle, albeit barely (9-8).
The last area that the Bearcats really dominated en route to pushing SMU out of the building was the glass. Surprisingly enough, when the other team is throwing bricks up left and right, it helps to pick those bricks up and start building yourself a winning foundation. Or a house. Shelter is important. The Bearcats had a 38-29 edge on the boards and outscored the Mustangs by 10 in second chance points (14-4).
This game wasn’t the most beautiful to watch and the Bearcats had their own warts to deal with, what with Jarron Cumberland going 2-of-8 from three-point range and the team shooting 28.1 percent in the first half, but if they defend the rim and the glass like they did Sunday, few teams are going to have a chance against them.
Best Individual Stat Line
Gary Clark and Evans scored the same number of points (18). Clark just did it it with five fewer shots (14 vs. 9) and 10 fewer minutes (36 vs. 26). The senior also managed to grab eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end. That was more than half of the number SMU had as a team. So Clark gets the nod for this game.