For the first time since Nov. 7, the Cincinnati Bearcats lost a game of basketball on Saturday, falling 70-59 on the road against No. 18 Mississippi State. It was in no way an embarrassing loss. The Bulldogs are a very good team with a national ranking and favorable metrics. But the Bearcats could have won the game if they had done a few things better. Some of those things were glaringly obvious in the numbers.
The majority of the issues were on the offensive side of the floor. The Bearcats are not a team that moves the ball excessively well. They average only 0.211 assists per possession and assist on a little more than half of their made field goals, according to Team Rankings. They had a real problem with creating offense on Saturday, finishing with only nine dimes, including a total of three in the final 20 minutes.
It’s possible that Mick Cronin tried to address the issue with his rotation decisions in the second half. With three point guards in Justin Jenifer, Cane Broome and Logan Johnson, Cronin has a lot of options. However, there is no denying that Jenifer is the best distributor of the three. Jenifer leads the team in assists per 100 possessions (11.0) and assist rate (31.9 percent) by a wide margin. That didn’t translate on Saturday, as even with Jenifer in the lineup for 19 of the final 20 minutes of the game, he only had two assists.
Perhaps giving more time to a scorer like Broome would have helped since the Bearcats struggled to get the ball in the basket all night. They shot below 40 percent from the floor in both halves and netted 37.3 percent overall. Broome didn’t help those numbers, going 0-for-3 from the floor, but he also only played 10 minutes, which obviously kept him from getting into a rhythm. Cronin really didn’t give many of his reserves a chance to impact the game, leaning heavily on his starters, as the Bearcats were outscored 24-7 off the bench. With more willingness to go with their depth, the Bulldogs stayed fresh and were able to pull away down the stretch.
Speaking of the stretch, that’s where the game really got away from the Bearcats. Three free throws from Jarron Cumbrerland with just under seven minutes to play pulled UC within four points of the Bulldogs (54-50). The score had never left Mississippi State’s side in the second half after there were six lead changes in the first, but the Bearcats were still in ragne. However, after Cumberland’s foul shots, the Bulldogs went on a 10-2 run to take a 12-point lead. The real backbreaking sequence came courtesy of Tyson Carter, who drained a three-pointer and followed it up with a layup to put Mississippi State ahead 64-52 with 3:11 to play. The Bearcats only made two field goals in the last six minutes and were held completely scoreless in the final two minutes.
During those empty two minutes, the Bearcats missed a pair of three-point shots. That’s the elephant in the room for this game, as they were outscored 36-9 from beyond the arc. The Bearcats made just one three in the second half and Jarron Cumberland (2-for-5) was the only shooter to find much success. UC is not a good three-point shooting team, getting only 21.6 percent of their points from distance while ranking 344th in the country in three-point attempt rate (27.5 percent). That works when they defend the perimeter well, but when a team is splashing triples all over like the Bulldogs did, the offense the Bearcats favor is too archaic to work.
Best Individual Stat Line - Nysier Brooks
While Cumberland poured in a game-high 21 points he also turned the ball over five times and didn’t have a single assist. Brooks tallied nine points and eight rebounds, while making 5-of-6 free throws in 20 minutes before fouling out. He had a team-high mark in true shooting percentage (.678) and led the Bearcats in defensive rating (102).