Wining on the road is difficult in every sport, even when it seems like it will be easy. The Cincinnati Bearcats played a UConn Huskies team without their top scorer on Sunday and led by 15 points with less than 10 minutes to play. Somehow the game still ended up coming down to the wire in UConn’s home arena, but the Bearcats prevailed with a 64-60 win, marking their third in a row.
The Bearcats have 23 total wins this season, but only six of them have come on the road. With a 6-3 record away from home, they have still been solid, but danger has lurked at every turn in such games. They lost to East Carolina and Houston in such instances and nearly lost to Temple and Memphis in the same situations. This high-wire act the Bearcats have been performing at times this season is a much more perilous proposition in hostile environments, but they performed another magic trick on Sunday.
The head magician of their performance was Keith Williams. The sophomore wing’s clutch play in the second half allowed the Bearcats to take a big lead, weather the storm and eventually leave the court with a win. Williams scored 10 of his team-high 12 points in the final 20 minutes and also had five rebounds and two assists in that time. He ended with a higher usage percentage than anyone on the team (23.8), and that includes Jarron Cumberland, who was up around 32 percent for the season entering play.
In addition to William’s incredible work, Cane Broome was an important contributor in crunch time. He made two big triples in the second half and finished the game with 10 points off the bench. The duo of Williams and Broome teamed up for the biggest bucket of the game, as Williams secured an offensive rebound with 13 seconds to play and then found Broome for a dagger three-pointer, putting the Bearcats ahead 62-58.
For most of this season, Broome is not the guy you’d want taking that shot. He had been shooting just 24.2 percent from three prior to this game. However, he has started to improve as we near March. Including his 2-for-2 effort on Sunday, the senior point guard has connected on 50 percent of his threes in the last six games, averaging three attempts per contest.
Broome’s efficient shooting helped carry the Bearcats to advantages in all three shooting categories. They made 41.5 percent of their overall field goals compared with 39.3 percent for the Huskies. They also connected on all but one of their free throws (15-for-16) while the Huskies wasted too many chances, going just 13-for-21 at the line. Lastly, the Bearcats didn’t exactly light it up from deep (5-for-16), but they defended that area well, holding the Huskies to just 3-for-16 on threes.
Since both teams missed plenty of shots, especially the Huskies, it was imperative that the Bearcats clean the glass. They completed that mission rather easily, claiming a 40-30 edge in rebounds, including a 14-13 advantage in offensive boards. Trevon Scott and Mamoudou Diarra were key contributors there. Scott had a game-high eight rebounds and, even if he didn’t play his best offensive game (2-for-7 from the field), the Bearcats were +12 with him on the floor. Diarra got 14 minutes of playing time as starting center Nysier Brooks dealt with some foul trouble. In that time, Diarra collected six boards while adding six points and a block. All that rebounding equated to another big advantage for the Bearcats, who outscored UConn 18-12 on second chance opportunities, including Broome’s critical three in the final seconds.
The rest of the game was fairly even. The teams fought to stalemates in points in the paint (30-30) and fast-break points (14-14), while they were very close in terms of bench scoring, with UConn reserves scoring 29 points to the Bearcats’ 25.
Obviously this was not a game in which the Bearcats played perfectly. They had some trouble with ball control, turning it over 16 times compared with 11 from the Huskies. In addition, Cumberland had another difficult afternoon, as the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year contender was held to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting across 35 minutes. He still added five rebounds and four assists, but the scoring number was distressing. In fact, it was his lowest output since Dec. 1 and just the second time this season he hasn’t gotten to double digits. For a guy who averaged 24.4 points per game during an eight-game stretch before Thursday’s matchup with UCF, the fact that he has 19 points combined in his last two games isn’t great to see. Whether its just a sign of fatigue from carrying the Bearcats for so long or just a shooting slump remains to be seen, but UC needs Cumberland at his best to really compete, especially since two of their final four regular season games are on the road.
Best Individual Stat Line - Keith Williams
Williams’ second half was simply incredible. He had 10 points in 15 minutes, made all four free-throws he attempted, including two that iced the outcome at the very end of regulation. On top of that, he worked hard on the glass (five rebounds) and flashed some playmaking ability (two assists). That would have been just fine for an entire game, but Williams ultimately finished with 12 points, six boards, three assists and a block.