It’s only fitting that the Cincinnati Bearcats sealed their win over the Memphis Tigers on Saturday with an impressive defensive play. Leading 71-69 with 4.9 seconds to play, Trevon Scott missed a free throw. Memphis collected the rebound and tried to get it down the court with an outlet pass near half court, but Logan Johnson rushed in, stole the pass and then dribbled out the clock.
Even though the Bearcats were not perfect defensively through all 40 minutes, they still managed to slow down the Tigers and not just on Johnson’s game-winning steal. When I say slow them down, I mean that quite literally. Memphis plays at an exceptional pace, and although this game did have its moments of blistering tempo, the Bearcats didn’t let it get out of hand, holding the Tigers to an offensive rating of 100.0 and just 69.4 possessions per 40 minutes, according to Sports-Reference. That marks a five-possession drop from average for the Tigers, who rank fifth in the country in adjusted tempo.
Johnson’s steal was also emblematic of the victory because the Bearcats put constant pressure on Memphis and that often led to beneficial results for the home team. The Bearcats forced 17 turnovers, including nine steals, and scored 20 points off of those miscues. UC is only averaging 6.6 steals per game this season, so this was a marked improvement from the usual and a key to the victory since Memphis only had eight points off of turnovers.
For all their defensive victories, there were some concessions. Memphis shot 48.1 percent in the contest and outscored the Bearcats 36-30 in the paint. However, there were some things that UC did on offense that made up for those weaknesses. Most notably, the Bearcats got to the foul line constantly. They took a total of 36 free throws — including 16 alone from Jarron Cumberland — and averaged 0.404 per field goal attempt. Just because they took a lot of free throws, doesn’t mean they were particularly efficient, as they made only 63.9 percent in the game, including a 3-for-6 effort in the final seconds that nearly let Memphis either force overtime or win the game outright. Even with all those misses, the Bearcats still had the clear advantage, as Memphis only took 10 foul shots all game.
Cumberland’s free throw shooting was a major part of his bounce back effort. After struggling through the last three games, the junior wing was himself again. He scored 26 points on a 68.3 percent true shooting rate. Although his three-point shot was still off (1-for-5), he made up for it by draining 13 free throws and making just about all of his two-point tries (5-for-7).
As long as we are praising individual efforts, we should discuss the work Nysier Brooks put in on the block. The 6’11” center posted his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds. It had been exactly one month since his last double-digit scoring effort, but Brooks was aggressive inside, scoring on a few emphatic dunks along the way. His rebounding production (six defensive, six offensive) also carried the Bearcats to a 38-31 edge on the glass. As has become the norm, much of that advantage was on the offensive side. The Bearcats more than doubled the Tigers’ offensive rebounding total (16-7) and outscored them 15-6 in second chance points. Only seven teams in the country have a higher offensive rebounding percentage that the Beacats, so this isn’t the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last.
For all of those numbers from the first 39 minutes and 55 seconds, the only ones that really mattered were the final score (71-69) and the single steal from Johnson, who only played three minutes in the entire game. The Bearcats will need more plays like that this week, which is easily the most important of the season.
Best Individual Stat Line - Nysier Brooks
It was great to see Cumberland get back to scoring, but Brooks’ double-double was absolutely vital for the win. He had nearly as many offensive rebounds as the entire Memphis roster and led the team in offensive rating (161) and block rate (3.8 percent).