The Bearcats just lost to Ohio State, so let’s get back to a better day. Specifically, March 9, 2012.
It was the beginning of March Madness. For any fan of a Big East, it was the culmination of a contentious regular season that saw memorable games across the board. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for fans, the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden was the epitome of March. It did more than match how the regular panned out.
The season had been tumultuous for UC fans. From losing to Presbyterian to the infamous brawl at Xavier, it was an eventful few months for then-head coach Mick Cronin’s Cats. Now, it had done enough to right their wrongs and dance through March.
After defeating Georgetown in a double-overtime game, Cincinnati met with No. 2 Syracuse to determine one of the finalists in the 2012 Big East Tournament championship. The Orange were the heavy favorites, but Cronin had other ideas.
Through the first 20 minutes, Cincinnati raced out to what was a half of hot hands and shutting down Syracuse. It was a perfect first half as the Bearcats raced out to a 35-23 lead, the largest advantage being 17 points.
Then, in the second half, the No. 2 team in the country showed up.
To counter its horrendous shooting performance in the first stanza, Syracuse found its rhythm and clawed its way back into contention. However, the Orange could never get over the edge. Every time it handed Cincinnati something to deal with, the Bearcats responded right back with a punch of their own. The final one being the icing on the cake.
Down 69-66, Dion Waiters had the chance to pull Syracuse within two and miss the second in a desperation attempt to get the rebound and tie the game. Instead, he made both, making it 69-68 and giving Cincinnati the ball.
On the following inbound, Justin Jackson peeled away with nobody on him, allowing UC to launch the ball up the court, setting up Jackson to hammer it home and put the icing on the cake.
Pause five seconds, because Bearcat fans realized there’s still technically a chance ‘Cuse could heave one and tie it. After all, we all know Gerry McNamara’s shot.
Instead, Waiters’ full-court heave went over, and Cincinnati advanced to its first Big East Tournament championship in school history.
Yancy Gates and Sean Kilpatrick each had 18 points, Yancy adding seven rebounds and SK posting five assists and five steals. Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon had 11 points each, and UC shot 45.5% from 3-point range.
Syracuse had a 28-point performance from Waiters, who came from the bench that game. Only one other player, Fab Melo, had double-digit scoring (11).
It seemed too perfect for Cincinnati fans. Unfortunately, that would be the end of their Big East heroics as the Cats fell to Louisville in the final, but it served as the “Hey, Cincinnati is here and the Bearcats are legit.”
Today, the Cats have the respect of many, and that’s thanks to the 2012 Big East Tournament run.