As the cliche goes, sometimes your greatest enemy is yourself. The Cincinnati Bearcats didn’t play an intrasquad game on Thursday, but they might as well have since they were bested by a staggeringly familiar game plan executed by the UCF Knights.
Prior to the 58-55 loss, the Bearcats had won five-straight games. They had also won 25 total compared with four losses. Many of those victories, especially the stockpile of close ones, were built on offensive rebounding and foul shots.
The Bearcats score 21.3 percent of their points at the free throw line while their opponents only score 17.4 percent from such a distance. Against UCF, a team that has been exceptionally weak at the foul line this season, the Bearcats only scored 5.5 percent of their buckets in free throw situations. The Knights still didn’t shoot very efficiently (61 percent), but they had 13 attempts compared to UC’s six while outscoring them 8-3. If that seems like too minor a detail, just remember that this game was decided by three points and the Knights led by double digits only briefly at the end of the first half.
Now onto the offensive rebounding part of the discussion. The Bearcats and Knights were even in that regard, with each securing 15. That led to a very close competition for second chance points, which the Bearcats only barely won (17-14). Once again, this goes against UC’s way of playing and winning games. Prior to Thursday, the Bearcats were eighth in the country in offensive rebound rate and their opponents haven’t kept up with them frequently. Considering the Knights were ranked 150th before Thursday, the fact that this category was so evenly matched was a bit of a surprise. When you add in UCF’s 40-33 edge in total rebounds, that surprise becomes a disappointment as well.
Speaking of disappointing, the offenses on each side had trouble all game. The expected defensive battle between these teams came to pass, with the Knights especially difficult for the Bearcats to figure out. They shot a mere 31 percent in the first half and 37.1 percent overall. Some of the best scorers on the team couldn’t find the net. Keith Williams had four points on 2-of-8 from the floor. Justin Jenifer only took three shots. Cane Broome needed 10 shots to produce eight points. Even Jarron Cumberland, who appeared to be back in business against Memphis, had a tough time, finishing with 10 points on 5-of-18 from the field, including an 0-for-3 mark from three.
The offense’s inability to solve the UCF puzzle was especially painful in the final minutes. The Knights may have won, but they didn’t run away with this contest. The Bearcats tied the score three times in the final seven minutes, doing so for the last time on a Cumberland layup with 1:39 to play. Unfortunately, they missed three of their final four field goal tries, including two three-point attempts on the final possession. Cumberland also missed a free throw during that span which would have pulled the Bearcats to within a single point.
Missed opportunities like that really hurt because of how even the rest of the game was. Both teams went 6-of-18 from beyond the arc while tying in points off turnovers (10-10) and points in the paint (30-30).
Now that this game is over, there is only one more left to play in the regular season. That game will be on Sunday at Fifth Third Arena against first-place Houston. Since the Cougars defeated the SMU Mustangs on Thursday, the Bearcats can only hope to tie for the American Athletic Conference regular season title with a win.
Best Individual Stat Line - Trevon Scott
Thanks for sticking around until the end. Your reward for doing so is a look at Scott’s spectacular performance. He scored 20 points for just the second time in his career, doing so on an efficient 9-of-15 from the floor, including a 2-of-3 effort from three. In addition, he secured a team-high nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end, while handing out three assists. The Bearcats could use another performance like that on Sunday.