(photo by Matt Allaire/OhVarsity!)
The Bearcats closed the book on the first segment of the season by breezing past the Coppin State Eagles by a score of 97–54. They started incredibly hot before cooling off by the end of the game, narrowly missing 100 points for the first time this season. The Cayman Islands Classic and Cincinnati’s first real tests of the season are next on the horizon, but here’s what happened on Thursday night:
The Bearcats opened the game as hot as a team can possibly be. They made their first 13 shots and four free throws before Cumberland finally rimmed out a deep ball nearly nine minutes into the game. That hot start was fun. In about two and a half minutes, the Bearcats had jumped to a 13–2 lead and the game was effectively over almost as quickly as it had started.
Cumberland is on fire. I really hope this can continue into the heart of the season, although I’m worried that it seems to be mostly because of a hot hand from outside. Regardless, the sophomore is tearing it up, averaging 16 points, six rebounds, and three assists in just 24 minutes per game. If I can be frank, he’s doing what I expected Jacob Evans to do.
Gary Clark was back to causing problems. After a quiet game against Western Carolina, he came back with 12 points and nine rebounds on 5-for-8 shooting in just 17 minutes.
Justin Jenifer might be for real. I really want to temper my expectations here. Has Mick Cronin ever had a good backup point guard? For a coach who’s always relied on guard play, it feels like he’s never really had a second guy he can turn to. We’re starting to see signs that Jenifer could be that guy. He played 22 minutes off the bench and finished with 16 points on 4-for-5 shooting with a pair of assists, a pair of rebounds, a steal, and no turnovers. He also had a couple fantastic hustle plays and shot 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
Assists were good. 23 assists on 32 made baskets.
Turnovers were good. Seven total turnovers on 23 assists.
Rebounds were good. 51 rebounds to just 27 by Coppin State.
Mamoudou Diarra Watch: Diarra played just nine minutes and shot just 1-for-5. However, he managed five points, three rebounds, an assist, and a block on just one turnover. He also shot 2-for-2 from the line.
Let’s start with the free throw shooting. See, this game is why I skipped any negative takes on the Western Carolina win. The Bearcats put up 97 and I’ve got all kinds of issues. This team is returning to last year’s free-throw form, riding a roller coaster from the line. One game the team is shooting 80% and the next they’re back to 50%. I can’t explain it. On Thursday night, they were back to the toilet, shooting 58% at the stripe on 36 attempts. They narrowly missed making history by becoming the first UC team to ever score 100 in three straight games. The reason they didn’t reach that milestone is because they couldn’t even muster 60 or 65% from the line. The worst part is that it’s the guards who are making most of these mistakes, not the big men. Cane Broome and Jarron Cumberland combining to shoot 3-for-6 at the line is unacceptable for a team trying to join the elites. Keith Williams and Trevor Moore coming off the bench to shoot a combined 2-for-7 at the line doesn’t work either, and will cost them minutes if it continues. Big men missing the occasional free throw is one thing. Guards, especially veterans, making those mistakes will not fly.
Jacob Evans got hurt, and it was a non-contact injury. That sentence is enough to send shivers down spines of UC fans, but I don’t see this being a real issue. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him miss a game (or two) for precautionary reasons.
The offensive woes are here! The Bearcats had their worst offensive half (only 42 points!) and it cost them a shot at 100. I’m kidding about the struggles, but it was disappointing to see them miss that triple-digit mark because of stupid mistakes like free throws.
One thing I really like about the way Mick has coached this season so far is the way he’s managed minutes. Jacob Evans’ 29 minutes in the opener marks the only time a player has gotten more than 25 minutes through three games. The other day, when asked about bringing Broome and Washington off the bench, Mick said that he probably wouldn’t be starting the same lineup in each game like in years past. We’ve seen the depth. Mick seems to be testing the waters early on a potentially deadly roster. If he can successfully swap pieces in and out, not only will the Bearcats be nearly impervious to minor injuries, but Mick can absolutely torment opposing teams by switching rotations at a moment’s notice and bringing in guys like Brooks and Nsoseme as defensive enforcers or going small with playmakers like Jenifer and Williams to speed things up.
Mick clearly has his best lineup ever, and I can’t wait to see him run it up against some decent teams in the Caymans. We’ll have a much better idea of the Bearcats’ abilities this time next week.