There was a real moment during Thursday night’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bearcats and UCF Knights that I thought it was all over for the Bearcats. Before you rightfully lambaste me for my lack of faith, let me remind you that the Knights scored the first 12 points of the second half during which they shot 56 percent from the floor.
What I erroneously forgot was that you can’t count this Bearcats team out. Even though they only made 40.4 percent of their shots all night — including 39 percent in the final 20 minutes — and missed their first six shots of the second period, they ended up on top when the final buzzer sounded.
So how did they get there?
A great deal of credit belongs to Justin Jenifer and Keith Williams. On a night where all-world scorer Jarron Cumberland struggled (3-of-13 from the field), Jenifer and Williams stepped up in a major way, especially down the stretch. Both players scored 12 points total, including nine apiece after halftime. During that 20-minute stretch, they combined to make 6-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. Jenifer was especially brilliant in crunch time, as he produced seven points and an assist during the last three minutes, including a three-pointer with 24 seconds that essentially sealed the win.
As long as we are focusing on individual contributions, Cane Broome and Nysier Brooks deserve shout outs. Broome contributed nine points on an efficient 4-of-7 shooting while Brooks helped man the middle and played the second-most minutes on the team (34) despite being called for four fouls. In that time he managed a team-best plus/minus of +10.
Brooks also made a significant impact in helping the Bearcats win the rebounding battle (28-24) and earn an advantage at the foul line (11-4). He tied with Cumberland for a team-high seven boards and sank 3-of-4 at the charity stripe. He also had four of UC’s 11 offensive rebounds, which aided in their doubling up of the Knights on second chance points (12-6).
Returning to the free throw line, it’s no surprise that it played a role in this game. UCF has failed to consistently make their foul shots this season, ranking 336th in free throw percentage nationally despite leading all teams in attempted free throws per offensive play, according to Team Rankings. On Thursday, they didn’t have as many opportunities as usual, but they still struggled (4-of-7).
Aside from that, just about everything else went against the Bearcats. Their defense was less impressive than usual, especially in the second half, even if they did limit B.J. Taylor offensively. UCF connected on 46.7 percent of their field goal tries, including 56 percent in the final 20 minutes, while outscoring the Bearcats from beyond the arc (27-21), off of turnovers (18-17) and on the fast break (8-2).
As you may have noticed, both Cumberland and Taylor’s names were only lightly sprinkled into the first few paragraphs. That’s a surprising development considering they are the top scorers for their respective teams, averaging 19.3 and 16.9 points per game, respectively, entering Thursday. Unfortunately, we were robbed of a real duel between the two high-scoring guards. In the end, Cumberland got a little more support and that proved to be the difference.
You might think that after their struggles on Thursday, the Bearcats can’t afford to play like that again. That’s probably true, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.
Best Individual Stat Line - Justin Jenifer and Keith Williams
This honor doesn’t always capture the true hero (or heroes) of a game and that is the case in this one. Cumberland may have ended with larger numbers in most of the counting categories, but it was Jenifer (12 points, 4-of-7 shooting, 2-of-5 from three, three assists) and Williams (12 points, 4-of-12 shooting) who carried the Bearcats to victory.