Waiting for months to bounce back from a devastating loss only to lose again is a tough pill to swallow. Unfortunately, that was the prescription written for the Cincinnati Bearcats last week, as their shooting shortcomings equated to a 64-56 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on opening night.
If you want to take the optimistic approach, the Bearcats just got their first loss of the season over with. Now its time for that first win, which will hopefully balloon into quite a few more as the season progresses. UC’s next chance at that first win is on Tuesday night, as the Bearcats host the NC Central Eagles at Fifth Third Arena.
Who are the NC Central Eagles?
If you aren’t up on your Mid-Eastern American Conference history, then here’s what you need to know about the Eagles. They have actually made it to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons, earning a spot in the First Four as a No. 16 seed both times. Unfortunately for them, they lost in each of those games, including a 64-46 setback against Texas Southern last spring.
Even if they haven’t broken past the First Four, the Eagles have clearly built a sustainable program under head coach LeVelle Moton. The 2017 MEAC Coach of the Year has led the Eagles to either a MEAC regular season or tournament title in four of the last five seasons, including both designations in 2014 and 2017.
None of that mattered when the Eagles began their season against Clemson on Friday, as they were beaten by 20 points in the Tigers’ South Carolina home. Even in the losing effort, some things remained consistent from last season. Center Raasean Davis paced the Eagles with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The 6’8” redshirt senior averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year on his way to second-team all-MEAC honors.
The Eagles are built around their frontcourt, with 6’8” senior forward Zacarry Douglas fresh off a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in the opener. Last season, the Eagles ranked 17th in the country in two-point field goal attempts and 260th in three-point attempts. They shot 18 times from long range against Clemson and only made four of those, so the Bearcat should be prepared for a throwback kind of team on Tuesday; one that has not yet adopted the increased pace and three-point reliance that has become the trend in basketball.
Cumberland and Company’s Cold Opener
Here’s the good news about the season opener from UC’s perspective: Jarron Cumberland played like a star. He poured in 22 points on 17 shots and was the only player on the team to make more than one three-pointer.
The problem was, the rest of the roster was largely absent. Cane Broome, the apparent Robin to Cumberland’s Batman could barely find the rim, let alone the bottom of the net, making just 1-of-10 field goal attempts. That shows that he will have the opportunities. Now he just has to connect on them.
Elsewhere, the rest of the Bearcats caught the shooting chill, especially from their perimeter threats. Justin Jenifer (2-for-8), Keith Williams (1-for-6) and Trevor Moore (1-for-5) all failed to get much going, while the Bearcats shot just 27.4 percent from the floor overall. The rust was most apparent in the first half (4-for-29). It would be easy to just blame the poor showing on one bad half, but a 39.4 percent success rate in the second frame was below an acceptable mark as well.
There’s no reason to panic just yet, of course. This was the first game for a roster that is going to take a little bit of time to find its rhythm. However, if poor shooting remains a theme in the early going, it will spell warning in capital letters for the rest of the campaign.
UC played a very good Ohio State team in its first game. NC Central is not Ohio State, even if the Eagles have NCAA Tournament pedigree. With their depth of perimeter players (who will hopefully find their shots), the Bearcats should be able to take advantage of NC Central’s frontcourt reliance, especially if Nysier Brooks and Trevon Scott can figure out a way to make Davis’ night a chore. Cincinnati 79 NC Central 61