Twenty wins are difficult to come by. Well, at least if you aren’t the Cincinnati Bearcats. With a 69-64 victory over the Memphis Tigers on Thursday night, UC reached the 20-win mark for the ninth-straight season. Securing that 20th victory was far from a walk in the park, however, even if UC’s habit of getting to the milestone has been virtually automatic the last decade.
Another common occurrence for the Bearcats has been starting slowly. They did so again against Memphis. They shot just 32 percent from the floor in the first half, while the Tigers built themselves a halftime lead by connecting on an even 50 percent from the field. The three-point shooting of Justin Jenifer and Trevon Scott really made sure the Bearcats weren’t completely buried come intermission. Jenifer drilled three triples in the half and Scott knocked down two of his own. Thanks to their efforts, the Bearcats’ offense was carried by the long-range shot. Eight of their nine total field goals in the first half were from beyond the arc. The trend didn’t continue in the second half (3-for-12), but it lasted long enough to keep things interesting.
In addition to a surge from three-point range, the Bearcats stuck to their offensive game plan, keeping Memphis’ normally high-octane offense in the garage. With the game played at a tempo they favored, the Bearcats moved the ball well (17 assists) and were careful with the ball (10 turnovers).
While three-point shooting and ball control kept the Bearcats in it for a while, their effort at the foul line both helped win the game and nearly lose it. Confused? Let me explain. The Bearcats took 14 more foul shots than the Tigers and outscored them 12-4 at the line. Unfortunately, they also missed nearly as many attempts (10) as they made (12). Trevon Scott had the most trouble (3-for-7) and even Jarron Cumberland, who finished with a team-high 17 points, split his first four attempts before going 5-for-6 in the second half.
Another troubling development from this game, even though it finished in triumph, was the play inside. The Bearcats won the rebounding battle (38-32), so it wasn’t a catastrophe, but they were outscored 28-18 in the paint and, in a rare turn of events, had fewer blocked shots than their opponent. A rather quiet game from Nysier Brooks accounted for some of that. Brooks was held scoreless for the first time this season. He has averaged just 5.6 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting over his last five outings. Even if Brooks isn’t considered one of the primary scoring options, his recent offensive regression is troubling.
But enough with the negatives. The Bearcats did win after all. Two guys that didn’t have mammoth stat lines but made some seriously important contributions were Keith Williams and Logan Johnson.
It’s no surprise to see Williams’ name here. Even though he only scored nine points on 3-of-8 shooting, he had a team-best plus/minus of +11. The plus/minus stat is far from a perfect evaluation of a player, but it at least shows that the Bearcats were playing better when he was on the floor.
As for Johnson, his 14 minutes off the bench were excellent. He scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting, collected four rebounds and handed out two assists. This marked his highest scoring output since Dec. 19. Johnson might be earning himself a chance to make it a habit. He has averaged 10.3 minutes per game over the last four outings, hitting double digits three times. He averaged 4.4 minutes during the five games before that and never got to 10 minutes. His stock is clearly rising and as long as he keeps playing like he did on Thursday, that trend should continue.
For all the positives from Thursday’s win, there were some underlying issues that have popped up frequently this season. Slow starts and the occasional frozen night at the foul line won’t always be overcome by a second half surge. With a critical matchup with Houston next on the schedule, those are lessons the Bearcats need to take to heart, even if they are already a 20-win team.
Best Individual Stat Line - Trevon Scott
If you take away his rough time at the charity stripe, Scott had himself a very good game. He scored 13 points, nearly had a double-double (nine rebounds) and even handed out three assists without turning the ball over once.