It was a game I’ve had my eye on since Christmas. Once the Bearcats got past UCLA, I felt their next true challenge would come on January 27 in Philadelphia. I was wrong about that. This team has been challenged over and over again in the last nine games, even losing one. I was right about Temple though. The first half was every bit the struggle everyone who’s watched this program for a few years expected.
Last season’s team spent time in the top five of the AP Poll and still needed a last second Jacob Evans shot to get the win and reach 55 in Temple’s building. The Bearcats always seem to struggle in Philly.
This year looked to be a repeat. The Bearcats shot 0-for-7 from deep in the first half. They committed eight turnovers. They allowed seven Owl three-pointers. They scratched and clawed just to make it a 10-point halftime deficit, their largest of the season.
Out of halftime, the lead swelled again. Temple had a 14-point advantage with 18 minutes remaining. Then, as it has so many times in the last six games, things started to change.
The defense tightened up. The Owls couldn’t buy a shot, even an open one. Keith Williams and Eliel Nsoseme provided sparks. A rebounding effort that served as the only bright spot in the opening half somehow got even better. With 5:35 left, a Williams three pointer gave Cincinnati its first lead.
Right then I knew it was over. You could feel it. Temple wasn't fighting back from that blown lead, and they didn’t. Just 18 minutes after trailing by 14 points, Cincinnati had its 18th win and sixth in a row. They’ll enter February with at least a share of first place in the American.
The “down year” has been anything but. The “just get me to the tournament” mentality I had in October looks foolish now, because this team is looking like it might mess around and win 25 games in the regular season. The defense isn’t quite what we’re used to, but the offense is up to #26 in the country, best in a cool 15 years.
There will be time for this another day, but Mick Cronin deserves a lot of credit, both for the win-loss record and for the culture he’s built that leads to 18 wins and a never-say-die mentality on a day where it would’ve been easy to roll over and pack it in. This team simply does not quit. They keep finding ways to win. To the surprise of many—including me—they’ve done it 18 times in 21 games.
This is a program that prides itself on rebounding, and I’ve watched them focus heavily on that for hundreds of games. Sunday might have been the most impressive performance I’ve seen yet. Since 2010-11, they’ve had 46 total rebounds in a regulation conference game just twice. Today made three. They won the rebound battle 46-22. They won the offensive rebound battle 16-3. Not a single player had more than eight boards, either. It was a team effort.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve said to myself, “Good rebounding today. That was a big factor in the win.” I can’t recall the last time I said, “Rebounding unequivocally won the game.” Plain and simple, Cincinnati just won a game on the glass. It was beautiful.
Jarron Cumberland is blossoming. In a day where he had a slow start, was good-not-great at the line, and shot just 1-for-7 from deep, he still cruised to 25 points in a workmanlike 38 minutes. This team may be able to score in more ways than we expected a few months ago, but things still kinda start and stop with Cumberland. He’s gotta be this guy for the Bearcats every game. He largely has been.
Trevon Scott was huge, and I worry he won’t get credit for it. He had 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with six rebounds. It was his second good game in a row.
Logan Johnson quietly had perhaps his best game of the year. In just 11 minutes, he recorded four points, three rebounds, two steals, one assist, one block, and zero turnovers. His chase down block came early, but was arguably the play of the game.
This doesn’t make up for the absolute sham that occurred against the Owls in football, but I think it helps. I find it hilarious that Temple has absolutely botched a home-court lead two years in a row.
The Bearcats don’t play again until Saturday. I hate the long layoffs. See you at The Shoe.