It was an ugly win on a night that probably shouldn’t have required one, but a road win against a top-150 team in front of a reported 9,500 on the opposite side of the country isn’t always a freebie. I’ll take it.
The Bearcats hit Vegas for the first leg of their five-game ‘Show Me What You’ve Got’ Tour and left victorious, outlasting the Runnin’ Rebels 65-61. Very little went according to plan here, especially in a second half that saw the ‘Cats give up 37 points to a milquetoast UNLV offense.
The Rebels have made their mark on KenPom this year by being one of the nation’s most turnover-prone teams. Cronin tends to be in favor of forcing turnovers, so you had to think it was a matchup dream for UC. Naturally, on Saturday night, it was the Bearcats playing sloppy with the ball. Cincinnati lost the turnover battle 17-14. It marked their most turnovers since coughing it up 19 times in the Florida game nearly a year ago. You know it’s a weird night when Justin Jenifer records two turnovers, doubling his total for the entire season.
The rebound battled didn't go Cincinnati’s way either. Yes, the Runnin’ Rebels are the nation’s second best offensive rebounding team, but I doubt Cronin is satisfied using that as an excuse. UNLV beat the Bearcats on the glass 37-31. In the last two seasons, the only team to record 37 rebounds against the ‘Cats was Xavier a year ago.
Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati’s rock, got pulverized. He scored just three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 25 minutes before fouling out. It was Cumberland’s second career disqualification. I don’t need to remind you of the first, I’m sure.
The performance harkens back to some clunkers from Jacob Evans a year ago: Evans scored a matching three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 25 minutes against UCF in February. This isn’t a sustainable pattern for Cincinnati. The Bearcats need Jarron attacking even more than last year’s team needed Jacob attacking. UC dodged a bullet Saturday, but they can’t afford to keep flirting with disaster like this.
In the end, none of this really matters yet. It was another growing pain outing, on the road, amidst suspect officiating, and it ended in victory. Frankly, if you’d described this game to me in September I’d have bet money this was a loss. The ugly victory is more than you can ask for in the early going of a transition season.
I’ll be thankful for what did work in Vegas.
Keith Williams continues to be brilliant. The sophomore left his mark all over this game, hitting big threes, dunking on front court players, and rebounding like hell. He led the team in points with 15 and rebounds with eight. This kid …
Cane Broome dazzled as well. It was the kind of outing from Broome that will go a long way to ease the fan base’s anxiety about dependable scoring in big moments. Cane has done it for UC after a quiet opening pair of games, but we hadn’t yet seen him do it in a game like this, with UC battling against a solid team on the road. Broome looked at ease attacking the rim (with both hands) and finished the night with 14 points while shooting 7-for-9 inside the arc. (His outside shot is still largely missing and he shot 0-for-3 from deep.)
How about Eliel Nsoseme? On a night in which foul trouble for UC was rampant, he was incredibly sturdy when it was needed. Trevon Scott fouled out and Nysier Brooks was in foul trouble. This is a disaster-type situation for UC this season because of how thin the front court is. Mamoudou Diarra is probably not quite ready for these types of games, so Nsoseme is your only big man in these spots. Not only did he avoid additional foul trouble (just one foul in 18 minutes) but he gobbled up rebounds (tied Williams for the team-high with eight) and chipped in two blocks. I’ve never been quite sure what to make of Nsoseme’s role on this team, but I was impressed with this performance from him.
I’m gonna talk about Keith Williams more. Williams took 0.8 threes per game a year ago and shot a dismal 14.8%. This year he’s taking 1.8 and shooting 41.7%. This is remarkable and I won’t question it further.
Justin Jenifer took an incredibly ill-advised mid-range jumper in crunch time that somehow found its way through the hoop. We can laugh about it now, but I think my heart stopped for a minute.
The ‘Show Me What You’ve Got’ Tour comes back to Cincinnati Tuesday for a game against an 8-1 NKU team that’s #117 in KenPom—better than anyone on UC’s resume so far, aside from Ohio State and Ole Miss. I’m not terribly worried about this game, especially at home, but the Norse are solid this year and I’m always a bit spooked by the game before the Shootout. NKU is well-coached and will be fired up. This has trap game vibes. Look out.