In front of a sparse crowd at Fifth-Third Arena the men's basketball program at the University of Cincinnati took care of Hillsdale College (Michigan) despite an early first half surge by the sharp-shooting squad of Division II ballers on Thursday night, 99-71.
"It was all right, we could've played better, but a wins a win, and we'll take it," said Chadd Moore, who admitted his team has a lot of work to do before their next game. "We need to work on a couple of things before the next game, but we'll be ready."
Those "few things" that Moore referred to were later revealed by Eric Hicks to be rebounding and overall team defense, if you could not tell by the shaky performance on the floor.
The Bearcats limped to a 49-40 halftime lead after seeing the tiny liberal arts college from Hillsdale Michigan come out shooing the lights out. Connecting on 7-of-17 first half three-pointers, Hillsdale managed to set the tone for the first half.
Not allowing the typically feisty UC pressure-style defense to bother them, the Chargers exploited Cincinnati's tendency to overplay their man on the perimeter.
"Teams like that always come out hot," said UC senior big man Hicks. "We knew we were going to win, we just had to go out and have a good showing. For a lot of these guys it was their first [game as a Bearcat], so they probably had some butterflies in their stomach."
With that being said, do not be quick to take that as Hicks condoning the Bearcat performance during Thursday night's action.
"Take nothing away from this team, but I didn't like the fact we were down to this team," said one of UC's quartette of senior leaders, Hicks (15 pts and 8 rebs), who helped pump up his team and a "sit-on-their-hands" crowd with a pair of nasty throw downs during the early action of the second half.
Cincinnati took advantage of their size, speed, and overall dominant defensive skills early and often during the second half of this "didn't tell much" performance. After forcing just six turnovers, and allowing seven first half threes, the Cincinnati swarming trap-pressure at half court in the second half changed the complexion of the game for good. The Bearcats managed to force 15 second-half turnovers, which lead to 23 points off turnovers in the half (32 for the game).
It also dramatically affected the offensive scheme of the Bearcats, as it allowed them to get up and down the floor with a little more ease. A standstill, one-on-one jump shooting contest for much of the first half, 17 three-point attempts and just 11 total trips to the charity stripe, the Bearcats saw their inside game come alive. Mixing in 24 fast break points for the game, UC put down 24 second half points in the paint, up from the 14 in the first half.
"If we can help Eric [Hicks] rebound the ball, we should be able to get the ball up the floor and run," said James White, who finished off several transition dunks in the second half, helping him to 13 points on the game. "We've got big guards who should be able to help rebound, so it will really help us be able to push the ball and play a little more up-tempo."
White's referencing the big guards also comes across as a Freudian slip in many ways, as the lack of rebounding and overall inside play attributed to the interior players made it seem as if UC was the team playing with four guys no taller than 6-4.Hillsdale pulled down 37 rebounds (11 offensive) to the Bearcats 36 (six offensive). Out rebounded by a smaller, less athletic team is one thing, but Hillsdale is a team that finished at just over 30 rebounds per contest last season, and was out rebounded by over four per contest last season.
"Cedric has got to play better, Eric rebounded the ball well though he only played about twenty minutes tonight…James [White] leaks a bit too much, getting three rebounds from him isn't enough…but we'll get better as the season goes on; I think we'll be all right, said Head Coach And Kennedy.
While Hicks did his part on the glass, pulling down eight rebounds in just 20 minutes of action, the other two true interior players for the Bearcats struggled mightily, especially Cedric McGowan who is penciled in as the Bearcats fifth starter at the power forward position vacated by Jason Maxiell. Along with Ronald Allen, the "other" UC big men contributed a combined eight points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes of action.
"Cedric has got to do more," said Kennedy, UC's first-year/first-game headman. "Cedric played twenty-seven minutes tonight, and I think that will do him a world of good…There was a huge difference in seeing how the guys played once they got into the groove of the game, and I think you could see that."
However, it must be said that while there was limited offensive production inside, a lot of that had to do with the upbeat tempo and perimeter oriented action. Despite going to Eric Hicks early on, the Bearcats never really set up any offensive "plays" for the inside - or any at all for that matter.
"We didn't run any plays tonight, and that was by design," said Kennedy about his team's offensive style on the night. However, when it came to the defensive end, Kennedy admits that some of his team's struggles could relate to the way he decided to approach this early-season action.
"To be honest, I probably put us in a position to fail tonight, as I tried to get us to do some things out there we probably aren't ready to do. We were overextended on defense. I wanted to make a statement about ‘this is how we are going to play out there' and really wasn't too concerned about the score."
Kennedy attributes his team's overzealous attempt to get in to midseason form at this early juncture of the season, as the reason Hillsdale was able to have so much success early on.
"With a lot of our young guys not knowing when and where to trap it can really leave you vulnerable they way it did early on tonight," said Kennedy. "Hillsdale is a well-coached team with a lot of motion in their system, they pass the ball extremely well, and they are able to exploit you on the inside when you over play a man or the ball, and catch yourself out of position."
Those early-game blunders helped find the Bearcats in a precarious position for much of the opening half – trailing. Dazzling passes and ball movement by the Chargers, mixed with some deadly marksmanship from deep saw the Bearcats have their hands full for much of the period.
However, though they trailed by as many as four points and being tied/down for much of the first half, the Bearcats were able to utilize the momentum swing brought on by a bevy of up-tempo, high-intensity plays on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court – just the way UC has always done it. The Bearcats, feeding off the energy they brought to the crowd and to the team bench, saw their newly acquired momentum carry them into the intermission with a nine-point lead and helped to instill the up-tempo, fast-break, high-pressure zoning style that UC has traditionally associated itself, leading them to a "familiar place" and helping them roll to an easy victory.
Even though no one involved in the game could truly claim to be "happy" with the overall team performance, with all the "new" that is in store for the Bearcats this season the glimpse of a little bit of the "old" was a welcome sign to many of those skeptics concerned with the direction of the basketball program.
The Bearcats will return to action next Saturday, November 12, as they look to closeout the exhibition portion of their 2005-06 schedule with a home contest versus the Northern Kentucky Norsemen.