When Jarron Cumberland dropped in a layup following an offensive rebound with 11:37 to play in the Cincinnati Bearcats’ round of 32 matchup with the Nevada Wolf Pack yesterday, it seemed over, but in a good way. Bearcats fans were ready to celebrate. All they had to do was wait as UC closed it out. Right? Right?!
The painful final 11:37 is not something I’d really like to relive, but I am nothing if not a content producer. Not all heroes wear capes.
11:37: Cumberland’s bucket account for his 16th and 17th points of the game. Little did we know it would be the last points he would score on Sunday.
9:06: Suddenly the Nevada offense has gotten a rhythm going, capped by a three-pointer on the break from Kendall Stephens. The Bearcats are only leading 65-53. The nerves tighten up a little, but there’s no reason to get ridiculous. A 12-point lead should be safe for a team that is second in the country in defensive efficiency and is rebounding at such a high level.
8:31: The missed shots are piling up at a more alarming rate than normal. UC has missed four-straight field goal attempts and, worse yet, Caleb Martin was fouled after scoring on a fast break layup. The ensuing free throw cuts UC’s lead to nine points. Its the first time the Bearcats have been up by fewer than 10 points since there was 4:18 to play in the first half.
Relax. The fact that the Bearcats were up nine before and then went up by 22 means this is just a run they have to withstand before punching back and putting the final blow on Nevada. I’m not nervous. You’re nervous.
7:52: Cody Martin hits only his 15th three-pointer of the season. And it doesn’t just kind of go in, it splashes the net. The rim isn’t even part of the equation. UC now leads by six (65-59). That’s a two possession game and Nevada likes the three ball. Gulp.
7:17: An offensive rebound and followup shot ends a more than four minute scoring drive. Gary Clark will save us all!
5:25: Jacob Evans gets a score in the paint but Cumberland is called for his fourth foul moments after. Mick Cronin decides to keep him in. This is fine. That won’t come back to bite them, I mumble feebly to myself.
4:19: GARY CLARK FOREVER. THIS IS CLOSE BUT THE BEARCATS GOT IT.
4:04: Life comes at you fast. Cumberland commits his fifth foul and the Bearcats fail to capitalize on that brilliant defensive play from Clark. The heart rate has ratcheted up now, but Evans, Clark and Kyle Washington are too tough to let this slip away.
3:53: A hoop plus the harm for Cody Martin. This is now a 71-68 game. Are you serious?
2:39: Two free throws from Cane Broome. Deep breaths now. Deep as you can. Just a little more than two excruciating minutes left. That’s all. They can hold on.
1:51: Its going to be tough to do that now that the score is 73-70 and the Bearcats haven’t hit a shot since the Georgia State game as far as I remember.
:51: They cannot, in fact, hold the lead as Martin hits a three from the elbow. Was it defended well? Sure. Was it the best shot the Wolf Pack could have gotten? No. Did it still go in? Yes.
:42: Come on, Jake. Give us that last-second jumper magic from the Temple game back in January. You’ve got it...and nope that’s a miss. OK. OK. Just force a stop, get the ball and a buzzer beater. Buzzer beaters are fun, right?
:13-:09: Yes! Nevada missed a shot. Let’s g — wait. The Bearcats didn’t get the rebound? AND JOSH HILL JUST HIT A SHOT IN THE PAINT? Nevada is up 75-73 and my eyes are bleeding. Timeout Cincinnati. OK. OK. This is bad. But its not over. Get the ball in Evans’ hands. Nine seconds is plenty of time to get a quality look.
:09-:00: Ball is inbounded. Broome gets it. That’s fine. Maybe even better. He’s faster than anyone out there. He dribbles down the right side of the floor, gets in close and ... there’s no shot ... there’s a scramble for the ball on the floor ... there isn’t enough time ...
I watch Gary Clark collapse to the ground. I see Nevada players running in joy. I can’t hear anything. I’m not sure that I’m breathing. I don’t particularly care if I am. I sit there for seconds that drag into minutes. I don’t say anything. I go to Twitter to try to say something but words disappear.
And like that the season is over. One of the greatest Bearcat teams of all time goes down in the most painful way possible. The last game of Clark and Washington’s careers contains the most heartbreaking stretch of basketball played by the Bearcats in the Cronin era. Probably in the program’s history as a whole
This was still a fantastic year and there are much, much more important things in this world. There are reasons to celebrate and we’ll get to those later this week. But right now, its tough to find the words.