Two things ended on Sunday for the Cincinnati Bearcats - their NCAA-record streak of four consecutive overtime games and the long and exhausting short month of February.
Two things that did not end on Sunday for the Bearcats - their NCAA Tournament hopes in 2020 and their winning streak against Wichita State.
Cincinnati beat Wichita State 67-64 in REGULATION to extend their win streak to 6 games against the Shockers and improve to 18-9 overall on the season and 11-4 in conference play, tied with Houston for first place.
This game was pretty much like every other game Cincinnati played this season and featured many of the same old struggles - the usual positives but with a few more twists and curveballs than usual.
For example, Cincinnati continued to turn the ball over and miss three pointers and free throws at a ridiculous rate. But the bench was a positive and Keith Williams was a negative, on offense. Those are two things that haven’t been written or said much this season.
Cincinnati got a conference-play high 26 points off the bench from Mamoudou Diarra (6), Jaevin Cumberland (9), Zach Harvey (8), and Chris McNeal (3).
As for the starters? Well there was Jarron Cumberland and that was about it. Keith Williams was held to 0 points, his first scoreless game of the year. In fact, it was the first time he was held scoreless since March of his freshman season in 2018. Last season, he had one game with 0 field goals, but did hit 1 free throw. Chris Vogt scored a season-low 2 points on 1-7 shooting.
Trevon Scott was held to 8 points, after averaging 18.5 ppg in the 6 previous games in February. Scott was also held to just 9 points the first time around against Wichita State, so clearly this is a matchup that doesn’t favor the senior.
Jarron Cumberland, who scored 24 points earlier this month in the road game against Wichita State, matched that total on Sunday. It came on just 3-11 shooting and the bulk of his points came on 16-22 shooting from the foul line. Cumberland is an absolute bull. His strategy is simple. Get to the basket at all costs and either hit the layup or get fouled. There is also the more-than-occasional charge called against him.
Cumberland’s strategy is great except he has played an extraordinary amount of minutes in February due to the overtimes and the play of the bench, that every time he gets hit, it hurts a little extra. You could see late in the game there was a lot of grimacing and wincing, but Cumberland is a warrior and was able to make plays late in the game.
The biggest issue for Jarron remains turnovers. He committed 6 turnovers and is averaging a crazy 3.4 turnovers per game this season. That is a high number for a senior of Jarron’s caliber and a number that must be reduced for this team to have success in March.
The ending to this game was odd, but so has almost every game Cincinnati has played this season. Of course, everyone was holding their breath praying for not another overtime finish. It also came down to free throws, which is another reason for fans to pray.
First, Mika Adams-Woods shot two free throws, missing the first and hitting the second. Wichita State ran an odd play where they threw a pass the length of the court with 3 seconds left. Three seconds is more than enough time to catch the ball in the backcourt and run up the floor to get a clean shot off. Jarron actually did it in 1 second on Wednesday. But Shockers went the route of full court pass which was intercepted by Jarron, who was fouled immediately.
Naturally, Jarron hit just 1 of 2, increasing the lead to three. This time, Wichita did inbound the ball into the backcourt and got off a fairly clean look from half-court, which went wide.
After 5 overtimes in four games, Cincinnati thankfully did not go an extra 5 minutes on Sunday. But the toll of the last couple of weeks has certainly weighed on the players. It impacts you both physically and mentally and the schedule sets up nicely for Cincinnati to not play again until next Sunday.
Bearcats visit Houston, whom they beat at home to start February. Every game is a must-win game for Cincinnati from here on out and this will be no different, especially because it sets up a potential quad 1 win for the Bearcats. With both teams 11-4, this may also determine the regular season champion and ultimately the 1 seed in the conference tournament.