The Cincinnati Bearcats returned to Fifth Third Arena Sunday afternoon on “Senior Day” after a tough 69-56 loss down in Houston on Thursday. With a tournament berth on the line would the boys from Clifton be able to respond with a win on “Senior Day”?
It was a special afternoon on Sunday as four seniors stepped into Fifth Third Arena for the last time in their collegiate careers. All year long the Bearcats got major contributions from seniors such as Shaquille Thomas, Farad Cobb and Octavius Ellis, but the biggest may have been today from Coreontae DeBerry. Cronin inserted DeBerry into the starting lineup and it proved to be beneficial for the Bearcats.
DeBerry finished with 10 points on 3 of 3 shooting from the field, 4 of 4 from the foul line and grabbed 7 rebounds. Troy Caupain led the Bearcats in scoring with 14 points, but shot just 4-19 from the floor. Jacob Evans also chipped in with 9 points. On a day where it seemed like the Bearcats couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean they got timely defensive stops when needed and it propelled them to a 61-54 victory over SMU.
In the first half the Bearcats seemed to come out with a lot of energy. Defensively they swarmed to the ball playing great defense on SMU’s leading scorer Nic Moore. “I just wanted to shadow him around the court and keep my hands high when he comes off ball screens,” said Caupain, “I just wanted to make everything tough on him.” Caupain certainly made things tough on Moore, but he wasn’t alone as the Bearcats held the Mustangs to only 36% shooting from the floor in first half.
In the second half the Bearcats continued to struggle offensively. In the last 12 minutes they only scored one field goal from the floor. They only shot 30% for the game, but held the Mustangs to only 39% which speaks to their outstanding defensive play. Every time it seemed like SMU was making a run the Bearcats got the necessary stops when needed. A huge X-Factor was the disparity in free throws. UC shot 18 more free throws than the Mustangs getting to the line 30 times converting on 24.
At this point in the season defense wins in the tournament. Some teams may have scoring droughts like the Bearcats had this afternoon, but when you hold your opponent to below 40% from the field you will have a chance to win games late. If they continue this trend playing great defense they will have a chance to make a deep tournament run.
The Bearcats will next play in the AAC tournament starting Friday in Orlando and the opponent is you guessed it UConn.