A heavily questioned decision by Andy Kennedy to play the clock down to five seconds instead of taking the foul proves genius, as James White picks up just the second steal of the game for UC and takes it the distant for the dunk to tie the game with 5.8 seconds left. Despite a last-second heave by Murray State, and an all-or-nothing effort in the extra period, UC managed to hold on for the 79-75 OT thriller.
"I knew the clock was running down and knew that if we didn't get a stop we were probably going to lose, so when I saw him spin I just put my arm around him, swiped at the ball and it hit of his leg and I picked it up and took it in," said James White, who had a similar thing happen to him two seasons ago.
"Two years ago pretty much the same thing happened to me against UNC-Charlotte. I spun and the guy picked it and took it in for the basket. So I just decided to use that and hoped it would work and that I wouldn't commit a foul."
Head Coach Andy Kennedy, who to possibly everyone's surprise picked up the first win of his career on any level, seeing as how the game took form in the second half, was thrilled with the way with game unfolded.
"This is probably the best thing in the world for us," said Kennedy, recalling the game against Northern Iowa last season. "Last year's game served as a real wakeup call for the team. Things came too easy for us during the preseason; it got some of our guys thinking they could just turn it on and off when they pleased. While I didn't want to have to take a loss to make a point to these guys, it shows us that we can't get by with some of the mistakes we've been making and expect to succeed."
While White's end-of-regulation "hopes" came true, many of the UC faithful, including his new head coach were "hoping" to see White, and his Bearcat teammates step up on the defensive side of the ball before their backs are against the wall.
"I don't know why it takes this team having their backs against the wall, flirting with near disaster, to "get it" on the defensive end--but they do. I can assure you that we do work on these apparent weaknesses daily, but for some reason we just step on the court and we lose it…I'll tell you, especially with some of our younger guys, I just don't feel comfortable putting them on the floor yet. We design a play out of a timeout and they run to the wrong side of the floor and I question whether or not we can have them out there."
However, that number could have been even smaller had it not been for the sluggish (to put it mildly) performance of one of Kennedy's go-to guys.
"Armein [Kirkland] got off to a slow start," said Kennedy about his 6-8 wingman that tested the pro waters before deciding to return to the Bearcats for his senior season. "He missed a few shots early, and it really seemed to get to him on both the offensive and defensive ends. He seemed a bit lost and started to get back-cut –- Armein doesn't get back-cut."
The play of Kirkland and White is crucial to this young team has plans of being successful, and today that was as evident as ever before.
"In order for this team to be successful we need those guys to earn All-Big East votes on the court, and I am not sure they received any today," said Kennedy about his supposedly dynamic duo. Kirkland finished 1-for-9 on the day (five points) while roping in just three rebounds and dishing out no assists. White, who thought he played well overall, led the Bearcats in scoring during his 44 minutes of action (21 points), but was surprised about the number of shots it took to get him there.
"I've never taken that many shots in my life," said a laughing White about the 21 shots he forced up on Saturday night. "You aren't aware of how many shots you're taking when you're out there, but that is a lot of shots….Even though I didn't shoot the ball that well, I still think I played fairly well. I played good defense and didn't allow my guy to score either."
"Winning becomes a lot more difficult when shots won't fall," said Coach Kennedy. "We shot the ball so well all preseason long and then we come in here and couldn't get our shots to fall today…The looks were there, we just didn't hit our shots. There are going to be nights when shots don't fall, and how you respond to that tells a lot about the makeup of your team."
One of UC's young guys that did play well despite only eight minutes of actions was "lost-in-the-shuffle point guard Dominic Tilford. Tilford, who is fighting for playing time with Jihad Muhammad, Devan Downey and now suspended Chadd Moore, scored eight points in his eight minutes of work, including a big three-pointer that had his teammates praising his efforts in the post-game.
"Dominic hit some big shots for us and really won the game for us," said UC big man Eric Hicks. "Without some of the shots he hit we probably would have never made it to overtime. He kept us in the game."
While not quite as productive offensively as his fellow newcomer to the Bearcat roster was, Cedric McGowan, the JUCO transfer that has been thrust into a lineup of four returning starters. McGowan, who has looked timid at times during the exhibition season, showed the tenacious streak that garnered him his scholarship to the University of Cincinnati in the first place. McGowan finished with 10 rebounds for the contest (three offensive), and was one point shy of his first career double-double.
"Ten rebounds is huge for us," said Hicks, who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds on the contest. Hicks has been looking for help in the paint during this early portion of the 2005-06 season, and McGowan will hopefully give him the effort this size-lacking squad can need. "We need some help rebounding the ball and if he can give us that every game it is really going to help make us a better team."
Rebounding is very evident weakness of the Bearcats, who have struggled on rebounding the ball, especially on the defensive end, during this three game stretch (including preseason). Against Murray State, the Bearcats allowed 18 offensive rebounds. While collecting 18 of their own, Coach Kennedy does not always see the same effort put forth when rebounding the other teams missed shots – especially from Hicks.
"Eric goes after the ball and I love the energy he brings to the court. He grabbed 10 rebounds for us, and was great on the offensive glass but we need to get him to play with the same energy on the defensive end."
While the effort displayed during the game was unacceptable from Kennedy's perspective at times, the fact remains that they are undefeated on their young season. UC will look to continue their perfect start under the regime of their new headman Tuesday night, as Illinois State looks to invade Fifth-Third Arena.