Most of the time, basketball is an exhilarating sport. Jump shots splash in the net. Dunks rattle the rim. Crossovers dazzle. Fast breaks end in triumphant baskets.
Then there are games like Wednesday’s between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the SMU Mustangs. Neither team had an easy time getting points on the board in a matchup that very literally went to the first side to score 50.
For quite some time, it didn’t look like either team would even get to that point. Despite taking 40 shots in the first half, the Bearcats trailed 28-22 at the break because they just couldn’t get into a rhythm, shooting only 23 percent in the opening 20 minutes. They weren’t much better in the second frame (33 percent), especially from three, missing all five attempts after they were only marginally better in the first half from(4-of-16). In all, the Bearcats connected on a season-low 26.6 percent from the field, somehow falling short of their terrible performance in the season opener against Ohio State.
Jarron Cumberland still ended up leading the team in scoring, reaching 12 points. However, instead of it being a triumphant break from his recent cold streak, it was just another rough outing for the Bearcats’ leading scorer. He took a team-high 13 shots, but only made four while missing all four of his three-point attempts. Cumberland is shooting 28.6 percent and averaging just 10.3 points over the last three games. In the process, he has opened the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year chase back up while leaving the Bearcats more vulnerable.
So if the Bearcats struggled so mightily to put points on the board, how did they pull this win together? They just strapped in and did what they do best, defending like crazy, putting in work on the boards and getting to the free throw line.
Let’s start with the defense. There is a reason the Mustangs only scored 49 points. While Jahmal McMurray had 27 and made 6-of-14 shots from three, the Bearcats still made his life difficult while completely crushing any chances for the rest of the team. Only five SMU players scored a point, and McMurray was the only one to score more than seven. Powered by three blocks from Nysier Brooks, the Bearcats held the Mustangs to just 35.1 percent shooting overall, while really elevating their game in the second half when SMU plummeted to 27 percent. It was pretty much par for the course for a Bearcats team ranked 20th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
That defensive effort alone wouldn’t have cut it but, when you combine it with UC’s rebounding production, the semblance of a winning formula appears. Of course, just looking at their 50-35 edge in total rebounds doesn’t tell the entire story. Where the Bearcats really did their damage was on the offensive glass. As they missed shot after shot, they also rebounded those misses frequently, finishing with 21 offensive rebounds, including six apiece from Brooks and Trevon Scott. With so many extra opportunities, the Bearcats scored 25 second chance points, while SMU only had nine. That type of discrepancy is pretty impossible to overcome no matter how badly the Bearcats shot the ball. Just like their defensive showing was no surprise, the offensive rebounding was to be expected since, according to Team Rankings, the Bearcats are ninth in the country in offensive rebound rate (35.4 percent).
A final aspect of the win was free throw shooting. The Bearcats did not take a single foul shot in the first 20 minutes, but made 14-of-15 in the final 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the Mustangs only had three tries all game. The Bearcats are a pretty middle of the road team in terms of attempts per game, but they do rely on the line to an extent, ranking among the top 60 teams in the country in percentage of points from foul shots.
Once again we find ourselves discussing another win for the Bearcats that could have very easily gone the other way. Whether its luck or something more tangible, this team continues to figure out how to win games. In the future, they could make it a bit easier with just a few more made baskets.
Best Individual Stat Line - Nysier Brooks
Since everyone shot poorly, we won’t hold Brooks’ 3-for-12 performance against him. Instead, we’ll celebrate his game-high 12 rebounds and three blocks.