On Friday the Bearcats nearly killed us all.
Sitting at their highest seed since 2002, the 'Cats looked to be in good shape with a first round matchup against #15 Georgia State. The Panthers are a solid team but a spread north of a dozen points mean the Bearcats were heavy favorites. Instead of running away with it early, Cincinnati waited until the last possible second to piece things together and dart past the Panthers. Here's what happened:
Jarron Cumberland had the biggest game of his career. He laid down 27 points and 11 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes and carrying the entire team on his back for the first 75% of the game or so. We're talking about a guard that had eight offensive rebounds. I shudder to think what would've happened had he not been a flamethrower in Nashville. It's cool to see Jarron explode because his season (and his career) has been completely overshadowed by marquee seniors and big transfers. Guys, stop to consider the fact that UC has a sophomore who can defend and distribute, isn't afraid to attack the basket, and feasts in the biggest spotlights. He's 61-10 in red and black.
Kyle Washington was also big. I realized this during the game, but Kyle has skyrocketed up my list of favorite Bearcats of all time in recent weeks. I can honestly say there's never been a Bearcat I've disliked, but Kyle Washington truthfully didn't stand out on a grand scale until recently. He's got the Yancy Gates bug, which is when you sense the end of your college career is coming and you start playing out of your mind. Kyle has such a fun game and a big personality to go with it.
Gary Clark had the quietest double-double in basketball history. Most UC fans would pull their hair out while arguing that he has to be more involved for the 'Cats to make a run. Meanwhile, he still had 11 points and 13 rebounds. Want to send yourself into a panic? Think if this game had been his final outing as a Bearcat. What a nightmare that would have been.
Jacob Evans saved his game at the end. I'll get into his lowlights in a second, but he does get credit for finishing strong when it mattered. He hit a couple of big shots in the final eight minutes and also pulled down some critical rebounds. In what most would consider a bad game, it's mildly impressive Jake still had 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Bearcats won the game on the glass. They out-rebounded the Panthers 46-26, good for a +20 margin. That's something you usually only see in some November game against Savannah State or in February against ECU. To do it in the tournament is impressive. Here's something to consider: The Bearcats are a perfect 21-0 this season when they grab at least 34 rebounds. They're just 10-4 when recording 33 or fewer. If you see the 'Cats dominating the glass, it's a very good sign.
Justin Jenifer had five assists and one turnover. Good job, Justin Jenifer.
Cincinnati's approach was trash, and I mean that. Read the scouting report on this game and it would've told you that Georgia State was undersized and couldn't rebound. Surely you work it inside to Gary and Kyle and play from there, pounding the paint at every opportunity while leaving the outside shots for when they're available, right? Wrong. Let's shoot 30 three-pointers. THIRTY. Only twice this season have the Bearcats attempted more threes in a game. Once was in the season opener against Savannah State, a team that's run-and-chuck themselves, and the second game was against UCF, a team notorious for its interior defense, and in a situation in which the Bearcats had a massive lead. Continuing to chuck threes against this team in this situation was nearly a disaster. Thank God for great rebounders and a good defensive game plan.
Jacob Evans is off. Yes, he's still contributing, but I'm officially worried. He's got a list of minor injuries he's picked up in the last couple weeks, and his play on the court just isn't the same. Granted, some of this may be an overreaction considering he played just 27 minutes on Friday after some unwarranted foul trouble. However, when he was in the game he looked lost at times. This goes without saying, but the Bearcats will need him to be more than a contributor if they want to keep playing.
The bench did nothing. Two points on 1-for-9 shooting, and this is despite increased minutes because of Evans' foul trouble. The bench is a huge asset, but it would be nice if they could come in because of a cushion, not because of early foul trouble. They work best that way.
PLEASE DON'T SCARE ME LIKE THAT. About halfway through the second half I had a moment where I thought, "Well, this is gonna be the worst day of 2018, isn't it? We're doing that today? Okay, great." I was sick to my stomach. Please don't do that again, Bearcats.
The next game features a surprisingly daunting opponent in the Nevada Wolfpack. This team is no slouch and the Bearcats will have to play sharper than they did on Friday if they want to win. Things are looking good for UC, but they'll need things to click back into place after a shaky opening win.