It was the type of game that had ‘trap’ written all over it. It was the type of game that, frankly, I expected this team, in a transition year, to lose. Instead, the Bearcats delivered one of their most reassuring halves of the season en route to a painless 78-65 victory over Northern Kentucky.
With Xavier looming on the schedule Saturday, it was easy to worry about a team missing so many of its leaders from a season ago losing focus. NKU excels in a few categories (defensive rebounding, getting to the line, three-point rate) and I wouldn’t have been shocked in the slightest to see the Norse leave with a win, or at least make things very difficult in defeat. But the Bearcats rode a near-dominant first half to a 45-28 lead at the break and, despite a fight from NKU, never seemed in danger of losing this one down the stretch.
I’ll call it The Trevon Scott Game. The junior propelled the Bearcats against a team that lacks interior skill, reeling off a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds (which tie a career high). He even started 12-for-12 at the line, which would’ve been good for fourth (behind Kilpatrick, Brannen, and the Big O) in a single game program history if it had held. He did all of this in just 28 minutes before banging his knee against a Norse player. He figures to be a huge factor in Saturday’s Shootout, so I hope he’s okay.
Everyone else followed behind Scott, with each Bearcat starter finishing in double figures.
Cumberland’s quiet 12 points and five assists got him back on track after a tough game at UNLV, and Justin Jenifer dazzled for 21 minutes on his 23rd birthday with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, and a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. Keith Williams, while he did cool off from outside, added another 10 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes.
The big men were Cincinnati’s key to victory on the scouting report, and they proved why, combining for 38 points and 20 rebounds on 11-for-17 from the field and a stunning 16-for-17 at the line. The Bearcats shot 26-for-33 as a team.
It was a perfectly executed game plan, especially in the first half. The Bearcats knew exactly what NKU does and exploited it. Fans in the older demographic will love the old-school nature of the win. Rebound and make free throws and this team can beat just about anyone. They’ll need to duplicate it Saturday.
I don’t have anything compelling to say. It was easy work for UC. Gotta love a boring win against (what should be) a top-100 team.
Northern Kentucky is a good opponent. Not only will this be the kind of sneaky good resume win you want come Selection Sunday, but the Norse helped draw 11,218 fans. I know we’re in the middle of a contract with them, but keep it coming. Play ‘em every year, for all I care. I’d even be willing to travel to NKU occasionally. As long as they continue to compete for the Horizon League title, this is a game that benefits everyone.
Nsoseme had his second nice game in a row. UC has rarely seemed to struggle with contributions off the bench from guards and wings, but getting it from a big man feels less common. If Eliel can come in and do the dirty work like this, Cincinnati’s front court liability is not what we feared it would be coming into the season.
I continue to marvel at the ways Logan Johnson, as a freshman, is able to impact the game without lighting up the box score. Look at his numbers in 12 minutes and you won’t be blown away. Watch this game and you’ll see he sparked the team in the second half. It’s the sign of a smart player. Cronin got himself a good one.
Don’t look now, but the Bearcats have won eight in a row after the OSU disaster. They’ve got all the momentum and confidence in the world, and they’ll need it against the upcoming onslaught of Xavier, Mississippi State, and UCLA. It’s too early to make declarations about this season, but this team is winning the games they’re supposed to and passing some of the easier tests like George Mason, Ole Miss, UNLV, and NKU. It’s easy to forget those wins weren’t a foregone conclusion in October, and certainly didn’t feel like it at halftime of the Ohio State game. The next two weeks or so will really tell us what this team is made of.
You may have heard this elsewhere, but I’m able to confirm: Xavier sucks. Go Bearcats. See you in Clifton Saturday.