Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson, and Zack Tobler have played their final games in Clifton. I can’t believe it. When this class got to campus, they played under some of my favorite UC players in Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Now they’re the beloved seniors walking off into the sunset. It happened so quickly.
The Bearcats haven’t lost a Senior Day game since 2010, when they narrowly fell to #9 Villanova before making an NIT appearance. Since then, the Bearcats are 7–0 with four of those wins coming against ranked teams. Mick’s teams (at least the good ones) tend to be unstoppable in their home finales.
Thursday was no different. Here’s what happened:
- Tobler got the sendoff he earned. Being a walk-on for a D1 program tends to be a thankless task. In exchange for being a minor cult hero on campus and getting a dozen minutes all season, you have to practice and travel with a team full of kids who are getting their education paid for. It’s basically the same amount of work with a fraction of the reward. I have to believe that Thursday was a big payoff for Tobler. Not only did he get his first career start, but Mick drew up the game’s opening offensive play, allowing him to slip behind the defense and score the night’s first points. Best #ToblerTime ever.
- The defense was suffocating. Houston entered the night averaging 75 points per game. With eight minutes remaining, they had 26 points. That may be the best defensive performance I’ve seen at The Shoe, certainly against a conference opponent. UC relaxed in the closing minutes and allowed UH to get some easy buckets and they still only hit 47.
- The rebounding was phenomenal. A surefire way to crush a team is to dominate them on the glass. The ‘Cats snagged 36 rebounds while the Cougars grabbed just 22, good for a +14 margin. The last time a UC team had a higher rebound margin in a conference game was February 2012 against Providence.
- The seniors played well. Troy finished with 11 points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Kevin finished with seven points, four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Nothing flashy from Troy or Kevin, but that feels like how it should be.
- The confetti shot following the game was awesome. Considering the arena technically isn’t going anywhere, I think it would’ve been easy to downplay Thursday night. Thankfully, UC went out of their way to make the last night at Fifth Third Arena 1.0 feel special. We’ll be back in the same building in 20 months, but it won’t be the same. UC knows it, so we got a good sendoff.
- “Big Game Jake” made it on the scoreboard. A little while ago, UC’s Jon Horton — who controls the in-game experience — contacted me about some player nicknames. I clued him in on Big Game Jake, which I’ve been using sporadically since last season. When Evans threw in an incredible put-back, there it was on the scoreboard. I’m sure this isn’t the first time this season, but it’s the first time I noticed it. Kinda cool.
- The ending was perfect. After all the memories 28 seasons have given us, there was something oddly poetic about the arena’s final points coming with 41.8 seconds left as walk-on Zack Tobler strode to the free throw line by himself while the rest of the players lined up at mid-court to watch. Of course he made it.
- I’ve got nothing. Go beat UConn.