We’ve talked a lot this season about cold spells for the Cincinnati Bearcats on offense. Nothing has quite matched the frustration of the scoring drought they went through in the last six minutes of their 65-58 loss to the Houston Cougars on Sunday. After a three-pointer from Jarron Cumberland with 6:11 to play, the Bearcats did not score again even once. It’s not as if they didn’t have their chances either, as they missed 11-straight field goal tries to end the game.
That disastrous stretch was part of a severely dampened offensive effort. The Bearcats only shot 33.3 percent from the field overall, including a barely above 40 percent effort in the first 20 minutes. The Bearcats also did themselves no favors at the foul line (6-for-11), although they did find some minor success from three-point range (38.1 percent).
Struggling to score against a defensively dominant team like Houston (ranked 11th nationally in adjusted defensive) isn’t anything to be ashamed about, but the Bearcats’ offense was stagnant without even considering the defenders. They assisted on only six field goals compared with 11 assists from the Cougars. The lack of fluid ball movement was certainly not helped by a conspicuous lack of playing time for Justin Jenifer. The senior point guard is one of three players on the team with an assist rate of at least 24 percent, but he played only 13 minutes against Houston. In addition, his three-point accuracy didn’t appear either, as he did not attempt a single field goal.
Aside from Jenifer, some other Bearcats also struggled. Keith Williams needed 13 shots to cobble together eight points, missing all five of his attempts from long range along the way. While he is far from the most effective distance shooter on the team, he was hitting 35.3 percent from that range entering Sunday, making his showing troublesome. Nysier Brooks also failed to get his offensive game going. It’s been a distressing trend for the junior center, who had seven points on just 3-of-8 shooting on Sunday and is averaging only 5.8 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting over the last six outings. With Brooks kept in check and Trevon Scott also failing to pack an offensive punch from the frontcourt (three points on 1-for-4 shooting), the Bearcats were outscored 32-20 in the paint while allowing the Cougars to connect on 49.1 percent from the floor overall.
To Brooks’ credit, he at least helped the Bearcats remain competitive on the glass, securing 10 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. UC actually finished with more offensive rebounds than defensive (19 to 17), but was outreboundd by the Cougars by a 42-36 margin. All those offensive rebounds didn’t help as much as they could have because, even as they scored 17 second chance points, the Bearcats allowed 14 from the Cougars.
In a surprising twist, the Bearcats’ defensive struggles down low did not carry over to the three-point line. It was a strange reversal of fortunes for a team that has been dominant at defending the paint and pretty miserable at stopping long-range shooters. Yet on Sunday, the Bearcats held the Cougars to just a 7-of-21 success rate from three. That three-point defense clearly didn’t make enough of a difference, but it is a positive to be taken forward.
Speaking of positives, UC can hang its hat on the fact that cold shooting was all that did it in. The Bearcats didn’t make a ton of mistakes and only turned the ball over four times, while forcing 13 miscues from the Cougars.
This feels like a game that the Bearcats very well could have won. If they had managed even a little offensive success in the final six minutes, the end result may have been entirely different. Taking that even further, the Bearcats would be the team sitting alone atop the American Athletic Conference standings. They will have a chance to right those wrongs against the Cougars when the two teams face off at Fifth Third Arena on March 10. If this first meeting was any indication, that contest will be a difficult and decisive one for the league title chase. When that times comes, the Bearcats need to score whole lot more in crunch time.
Best Individual Stat Line - Jarron Cumberland
Cumberland took a lot of shots, racking up 25 field goal attempts in 29 minutes. He made a fair number of them, especially from three (4-for-8) and finished with a game-high 25 points. Unfortunately, he got stuck in the same offensive rut as the rest of the Bearcats when it mattered most.