| The News Record)
Playing in the AAC means being forced to play with fire, and that’s exactly what the Bearcats had to do on Wednesday night at Fifth Third Arena. A talented team with a bad resume but a penchant for knocking off big teams rolled into a town and tried to put a chink in the red and black armor. The Bearcats were ready.
(Before I go any further, I’d like to confess that I wasn’t able to actually watch this game. I planned on watching late last night when I got home, but then I remembered the game was on CBS Sports Network, which is the only television network that ignores use of the internet in 2017. Even if you have cable, you can’t watch the game online — live or replay. That’s a separate rant. You’ll notice these observations are more general than my average recap.)
- Test passed. The AAC will give you these kinds of games. Playing Temple is like playing with a blowtorch. If you do what you’re supposed to do and take care of business, it’s no big deal. Mess up and get careless and you’ll get burned. Temple is a pretty talented team that has a pretty terrible resume right now. It’s a worst-case scenario for the Bearcats, because the Owls pose a strong threat, but bring no reward for beating them, only a harsh punishment if you lose. This conference is awful.
- What a finish. The Bearcats trailed by five points with 15:58 remaining in the game. Over the next 10 minutes, the ‘Cats went on a 30–14 run that decimated a Temple team that shot 61% in the first half. For as good as this team has been, I don’t think we’ve truly seen them seize control of a boxing match and deliver a knockout blow like that. This group has seemed hesitant to clamp down and smother a team that’s less talented than they are, but that changed on Wednesday.
- Troy Caupain is really turning it on. Wednesday night, especially the second half, may have been his best basketball of the season. When he was named Preseason Player of the Year, this is what we expected. 18 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists is nothing to shake a stick at, and is the kind of performance your MVP senior gives you in an important game.
- Gary Clark had a quiet game, nearly triple doubled. Gary couldn’t get it going for some reason, but provided key assists and rebounds in several big moments to impact the game without knocking down shots. Seven points, eight rebounds, and seven assists is one hell of a quiet night. He is a problem.
- Kevin Johnson’s up and down season continues, this time with another high note. 16 points and four assists on 6-for-10 shooting makes Wednesday night perhaps the best game of Johnson’s Cincinnati career. So much of what KJ brings to the table doesn’t show up in the box score, so I’m always happy for him when he turns in a performance that stands out like this one.
- Jacob Evans may have broken the slump with a nifty performance that included 15 points, four rebounds, and three assists. It comes at the perfect time. Wednesday night was an all-hands-on-deck affair, Saturday is a homecoming at Tulane, and next week brings the Shootout. The Bearcats are going to need Big Game Jake.
- The free throw shooting is hanging around. The Bearcats shot 20-for-24 against Temple, following a 15-for-17 performance against ECU. For you math geniuses, that’s 35-for-41 (85%). That’s a mark any team would be happy with, especially a group that’s shooting 67% on the season. Right now, the charity stripe is one of UC’s few weaknesses. If they can iron that out, they will be deadly coming down the home stretch. Temple started fouling in the final minutes last night, and the Bearcats knocked down their freebies to seal the game. That was great to see.
- The bench had another good game. Nine points on 2-for-4 shooting while soaking up 41 minutes is a thing of beauty. Those kids don’t have large, flashy roles, but they do their jobs so well.
- The defense could’ve been better. To be fair, Temple is a pretty talented offensive team. That being said, the Bearcats should never give up 74 points, especially at home, and especially against a team that entered the game barely above .500. The defense locked things up in the second half when it mattered, but they hemorrhaged points at times and allowed the Owls to shoot 12-for-26 from deep, which is a scary figure. The three-point defense has been much better in conference play, so let’s hope this game was nothing more than an aberration.
Saturday afternoon is a trap game extraordinaire as the Bearcats make the long haul to New Orleans to take on a putrid Tulane team with the Crosstown Shootout looming on the horizon. The Green Wave are awful, so hopefully the Bearcats — with the help of 110 UC students on the RallyCats bus trip — can handle business and come home to Clifton at 17–2.
Just keep winning.