For the first time in the Mick Cronin era, the Cincinnati Bearcats have won an outright conference title, as they squeaked by the Wichita State Shockers 62-61 in an epic American Athletic Conference showdown at Charles Koch Arena.
Despite a raucous and hostile WSU crowd, the Bearcats found a way to win and erase their ranked opponent demons, finishing the regular season at 27-4 overall and 16-2 in AAC play. The second of those records gave them the No. 1 seed in the upcoming AAC Tournament and the regular season league crown.
Jacob Evans was an absolute superhero out there to lead the Bearcats. Despite playing with a noticeable limp, he scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds to pace UC. Jarron Cumberland (11 points), Kyle Washington (11) and Gary Clark (10) all got into double figures as well, although Washington and Clark both struggled. That was doubly true for Washington, who shot 4-of-15 from the floor and had trouble defensively.
But, as a team, the Bearcats played with a ton of intensity and aggression, showing that its no fluke that they rank second in the country in adjusted defense. They held WSU to 40.7 percent shooting and blocked seven shots, none bigger than this one from Clark on the final possession of the game.
The overall defensive effort was what carried UC to victory, since the Bearcats struggled to get buckets, especially in the second half when they shot 36 percent from the floor, including a 1-for-8 showing from long range. But that one triple was the most heroic one by a Bearcat this season, as an already hobbling Evans pulled up and drilled one.
UC will have a fair amount of time to savor this victory, since its first game of the AAC tourney will be on Friday in the quarterfinals, but there’s no doubt this team isn’t going to be satisfied with just a regular season crown. If all goes according to seeding, the Bearcats and Shockers will face off just one week from now in the AAC title game. If that happens, you can expect another Sunday filled with anxiety and perhaps a burst of triumph at the end.