| The News Record)
The Bearcats squared up against SMU at Fifth Third Arena on Thursday night in search of their most important victory of the season, and walked away with exactly that. It was far from pretty, especially down the stretch, but the Bearcats displayed remarkable fortitude in winning a tough game against a good team that played well enough to steal one.
Here’s what happened:
- Kevin Johnson sealed the win. In addition to some hot outside shooting that ignited the UC offense early, KJ came up with the play of the game when he knocked the ball out of bounds on the game’s deciding possession. Instead of SMU having three seconds to catch and shoot on the run, they were left with just over one second and had to throw the ball the full length of the court to try to find a shot. It was a play that will get overlooked by the average fan, but it’s the kind of dirty work Johnson does so well.
- Troy Caupain flexed his Player of the Year muscles. He peeled off 16 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 37 minutes without a turnover. It was his biggest outing of the year at a time the Bearcats desperately needed it. He also shot 5-for-8 from outside, a career high for made three-pointers. I’ve mentioned it before, but the Bearcats are lethal when Troy has his exterior game working. In his career, UC is 5–0 when he makes at least four outside shots in regulation. That correlation should be just as strong with a ruthless supporting cast this season. If we get more performances like Thursday’s from Troy, this team will be nearly untouchable.
- Gary Clark is a problem. One of my favorite things about him is that most of his best games are incredibly efficient. Thursday was no different. He finished with 18 points and five rebounds on 8-for-9 shooting. He shot 2-for-3 from outside, hitting back-to-back three-pointers at one crucial juncture in the game. In the biggest home tilt of the conference slate, Gary was masterful. I’ll pound my chest over anybody who shoots 6-for-6 inside the arc.
- The bench did their job. With a starting lineup like UC has, they don’t have to try to squeeze 15–20 points from the bench. Against SMU, bench players combined to shoot 3-for-8 for 10 points and four rebounds in 36 minutes with just one turnover. That’s all the Bearcats need. A touch of scoring along with the ability to soak up minutes while avoiding mistakes that make the job harder once the starters return.
- Kyle Washington held his own in a tough, physical game. For a guy that’s still getting used to playing 30 minutes of physical basketball, Thursday felt like a big step forward for Washington. Instead of getting pushed around or blown up on the defensive end, he hung tight and finished with 11 points, five rebounds, and three blocks on 5-for-7 shooting. I’m sure Mick praised his effort, and I hope Washington realizes this is exactly what the team needs from him.
- Free throw shooting. Groundhog Day. True freshman Jarron Cumberland came off the bench and led the team in attempts and makes in just 11 minutes of action, which should embarrass the upperclassmen. Again, Caupain and Jacob Evans combined to shoot 1-for-3, while Evans missed a FT in the closing seconds that could’ve (and maybe should’ve) cost UC the game. The Bearcats were fortunate enough to get away with it. That cannot happen.
- Jacob Evans continues to struggle to find his spot in big games. FG% entering SMU: 51.9%. FG% vs Houston, Temple, Butler, Iowa State: 36.2%. Thursday? 1-for-10, including a crucial missed FT and a blocked shot on a late possession. He showed last year that he has the ability to shine in big moments (he’s earned the nickname Big Game Jake), and he’s incredibly talented, so I’m just attributing this to him earning the attention of some really good teams. As Mick said, welcome to the scouting report, kid. You can’t sneak up on anyone now. They’re coming for you. I think Jacob will be fine.
The Bearcats have a Sunday afternoon matchup with a bad ECU team before returning home for a Wednesday night face-off with the Temple team they bullied past to open AAC play. As always, the message is “Just Keep Winning.” The Bearcats have the talent to run the table, or very close to it. They just need to take care of weak opponents like ECU.
Just keep winning.