The Cincinnati Bearcats won a basketball game on Sunday but not just any basketball game. They won a road contest against the No. 11 Wichita State Shockers and claimed the outright American Athletic Conference title. If you are tired of reading the words “outright” and :American Athletic Conference title” sequentially then you are at the wrong site. I will be writing that as much as I possibly can. But just how did the Bearcats capture a heart-stopping 62-61 victory? Here’s how.
Individual contributions cannot win games by themselves, but Jacob Evans sure tried to, as he fought through pain to net a game-high 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting. He had a lot more trouble in the second half (2-for-7) as grimaces covered his face, but in the first half, he and Jarron Cumberland were the splash brothers incarnate, accounting for 13 combined points on 9-of-14 shooting.
Evans and Cumberland were really the best fits for the offense yesterday, which was pretty difficult to watch, especially in the second half. The Bearcats had a decent flow early on, but as the game tightened up, they fell into the always frustrating trap of having a ball handler dribble, dribble and dribble some more before taking a contested shot. With ball movement at a low point, the Bearcats only accumulated seven assists. That’s a major reason why they went just 9-for-25 from the floor in those final 20 minutes, including a 1-for-8 showing from three-point range.
Speaking of poor shooting, Kyle Washington did not have his best game. Even though he finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, he made just 4-of-15 shots and took more than a few questionable attempts from long range. Washington also had a rough afternoon on defense, as he was mauled by Shaquille Morris on the inside. The Shockers’ center scored 16 points, including nine on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half. Morris really helped power WSU to a noticeable edge on the inside, as the Shockers outscored the Bearcats 28-20 in the paint.
But Mick Cronin deserves credit for making adjustments, especially with his substitutions, to counteract Morris and the other Shocker bigs. He turned to Nysier Brooks and Eliel Nsoseme for stretches and it was Brooks who made the greatest impact of any reserve. That may sound odd to say about a player who did not score a single point, but in eight minutes, Brooks blocked two shots and grabbed three rebounds. He was also on the floor in the final seconds, hounding Conner Frankamp on the perimeter, an area the sophomore from Philadelphia is not usually stationed.
Brooks’ lockdown three-point defense was not limited to him. The Bearcats really kept the Shockers from getting into a rhythm from long range, even if there were more than a few nearly back-breaking triples. Still, WSU only shot 6-of-23 from three-point range, including a 1-for-9 effort in the second half. That was a marked improvement from the first meeting when the Shockers made 8-of-18 three-pointers.
Another area that the Bearcats improved on in the rematch was turnovers. When they lost at home to the Shockers, they turned the ball over 13 times, which led to 22 points for WSU. On Sunday, the Bearcats had three turnovers. Three. WSU scored two points off of those miscues, while UC had 16 points off of turnovers.
Most of the game did not feature such drastic differences, as there were eight lead changes and eight ties. But the Bearcats did enough to make sure a game (and a conference title) that could have gone either way, ended up in their hands.
Best Individual Stat Line
Sometimes stats cannot tell the full story and so is the case with Evans on Sunday. Yes, he scored more points than anyone else in the game (19) and, yes, he tied for the team-lead in rebounds (seven). But the fact that he gutted through 31 minutes while visibly hampered showed what kind of drive he has.