Tuesday’s game for the Cincinnati Bearcats was their most significant of the season and they pulled off their best win of the year.
You are probably rolling your eyes at the thought of a win against a 13-17 team being the best win of the year, but let me explain why.
Two hours before the game, it was revealed that Jarron Cumberland would miss the game due to injury. Jarron has been fighting various ailments all year and clearly has never been right, so for him to miss the game the injury must have been pretty serious.
With 13:00 minutes to go, Cincinnati trailed 56-43 and all hope seemed lost. The combination of poor play, Jarron’s absense, and USF’s inability to miss a shot led to much doom and gloom from Bearcats fans. I believe most fans started thinking about life Not In Tournament for 2020.
But then something special happened. Keith Williams happened. Mamoudou Diarra happened. The oft-criticized Chris McNeal happened. Cincinnati came together, in the season’s biggest moment and overcame adversity once again. Cincinnati ended the game on a 36-11 run and left Tampa with a 79-67 victory over the Bulls.
Sure, beating Houston at home or sweeping Wichita were big wins over good teams and the type of resume-boosting wins that could help get Cincinnati into the tournament. But given everything surrounding this team and the amount of adversity they have dealt with, this felt like the most significant and, perhaps, satisfying.
The Keith Williams Game
Obviously in the absence of Jarron, the question became who will step up and score for a team that sometimes struggles to score. The answer was a kid from Brooklyn, NY.
Keith Williams scored a career high 30 points on 12-18 shooting (2-4 from three). In the second half, he completely took over the game and was scoring in multiple ways, whether it was driving to the basket, cutting down line, or shooting from the outside.
This performance was extremely encouraging and gives confidence that the future of Cincinnati is in good hands. Jarron and Trevon Scott only have a handful of games remaining as Bearcats, meaning this team will belong to Keith Williams in 2020-21.
But why wait? Seeing Williams play like this was awesome and hopefully he can continue to provide a scoring punch even when Jarron returns to the lineup. Having two guys on the floor that can have their way is a good thing.
Trevon Scott’s dominance
In his first two seasons, Scott didn’t play much as he was sitting behind Kyle Washington and Gary Clark. Scott averaged just 11 minutes per game, scoring just over 3 ppg and grabbing an average of 3.4 rpg.
There were many questions about his role last year and he certainly stepped up, averaging 9.3 ppg and 6.9 rpg, starting all 35 games.
Questions again arose this off-season - was Scott a product of Mick Cronin’s system and coaching? Could he continue his development in this fast-paced system? Would he be a focal point of the offense?
On Tuesday, Scott recorded his 13th double-double of the season, with 21 points and 11 rebounds. He is coming off a month of February where he averaged 17 ppg and 14 rpg and recorded Cincinnati’s first 20 point/20 rebound game since 1998.
Scott has become the heart and soul of this team and he will be missed in the future. But let’s spent the next few weeks appreciating just how good he has been this season and how far he has come from his freshman year until now.
Scott also had the best player of the game...
I have been most critical of the bench this season. Injuries and transfers have depleted this roster and it’s left guys like Chris McNeal and Mamoudou Diarra in a position where they need to play productive minutes.
McNeal hit two three pointers. It was the first time since the UCF game on January 11th that he hit a three pointer and it was the first time since March 2018, when McNeal was at New Mexico, that he hit 2 threes in a game.
His defense was strong and he had high energy throughout the game. McNeal has really struggled all season, so being able to get productive and impactful minutes like this will be a huge boost to Cincinnati.
You know who else was a huge boost to Cincinnati? Mamoudou Diarra! Talking about Trevon Scott’s developing, how about Diarra and how far he has come. Not just from the beginning of his career, but from the beginning of this season. For much of November and December, Diarra played limited minutes and often looks lost and was unproductive. But over the last few weeks, he has been a spark off the bench. Diarra plays with extremely high energy and never gives up on the play.
Diarra played 20 minutes, scoring 8 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and had 1 block and 2 steals. Forget the points, the rebounds, steals, and block show his value to this team. You don’t grab rebounds or steal the ball by accident, you need to work for those things and right now, Diarra is working just as hard, if not harder, than anyone on either end of the court. And with Chris Vogt struggling a bit lately, Diarra minutes are going to become more and more important down the stretch.
Cincinnati returns home on Saturday night for the regular season finale against Temple, whom UC beat 89-82 in Philly earlier this season. It’s Senior Night for the Bearcats as fans celebrate the incredible careers of Jarron Cumberland and Trevon Scott and also say thanks to some of the transfers like Jaevin Cumberland and Chris McNeal.
Cincinnati is in “must-win” mode. A win keeps an at-large tournament bid as an option and a loss takes that off the table completely.