Speed kills, at least Tennessee Tech (6-2) must have be thinking after Saturday night's sixty-minute relay race that saw the University of Cincinnati (6-2) run all over them on route to a 105-62 victory at Fifth Third Arena.
Tonight's 105-point showing was the first time UC has put triple digit on the scoreboard since the 2003 season, and the most points scored by a Bearcat team since they matched tonight's total against Tulane (2001).
For the third straight game Devan Downey led the Bearcat attack with his zero-to-sixty style attack. Downey, who is coming off a career-high 24-point, five-assist, four-steal outing against MAC sleeper Ohio, truly embraced his lead guard role against the Golden Eagles.
"Nobody can stay in front of him, he is almost impossible to guard," said senior power forward Eric Hicks, who is all smiles after his point guard got him the ball in the post early and often. "His able to get in the lane and teams get confused with what to do. They don't know if they should double on him or play us, and because of that we got a lot of easy looks."
Even though the 5-10 (nice try UC, more like 5-8) freshman dynamo from South Carolina did not lead the team in scoring (16 points) during the contest, he was undoubtedly the most valuable player on the floor.
Downey finished with a career-high nine assists against TTU, while collecting three steals and ripping down seven rebounds. He simply did what his team needed him to do to get the all-important "W".
"Most people would be happy scoring 24 points, but I thought something was missing," said Downey as a laughing Hicks sat by and watch the freshman tell about his evolution as a point guard since the Ohio game. "I watched the tape and saw me breaking down guys and scoring, but there were a lot of guys that were open. I figured that I should get them the ball to keep them happy. My job as a point guard is to get guys the ball and make them happy, keep them in the game. If I keep them in the game they are going to rebound harder and be more aggressive, and it will give us a better chance to win – and that makes me happy."
Perhaps not surprisingly, since the Downey took over the role as starting point guard for the Bearcats the continuity of the team, and the performance of slumping players like Jihad Muhammad and Armein Kirkland have all picked up their games.
While Downey was most certainly the quickest, fleet-footed of the ‘Cats he was not the only one player for UC that took advantage of the rabbit-paced style of play. In all five Bearcats finished in double figures, and one other was a single basket from joining the quintet. Erick Hicks and James White led the Bearcat scoring with 19 points each, while Cedric McGowan (12) and Muhammad (18 points off the bench) reached double figures. Kirkland added eight points to the cause.
Of course, speed and an ability to get to the basket are that much more deadly when combined to an all-out defensive effort. The Bearcats were out on the prowl all contest long, and the Golden Eagles were just the right prey for them to sink their defensive teeth. The Bearcats swarmed, annoyed, irritated, pestered, and just about every other verb one could use to describe to goad their opponent, all game long.
"I think that team chemistry is the most underrated or overlooked thing in sports," said Tennessee Tech Head Coach Mike Sutton, who is making his first road trip of the season since being stricken with Guillain-Barre's syndrome in April. "When you start playing as individuals things start to fall apart and that is what happened to us tonight. We started playing like individuals and they took advantage of that fact."
For the game, the Bearcats finished with 13 steals, 31 points off 22 Golden Eagle turnovers and 33 defensive rebounds, which all helped lead to 28 fast break points. The up and down style on both ends of the floor is clearly becoming the signature of this team of undersized, underachieving athletes.
"We got a little too caught up in running certain offensive sets," said Bearcat headman Andy Kennedy. "I think this team has gelled a lot, especially since the Vanderbilt game. Having to make that bus trip down there in the snow, going through the battles every day together, has really made a world of difference for this team. You can really start to see them come together as a team."
Early on in the season the Bearcats were looking to the three pointer, trying to establish a half court game and make themselves a more well-rounded team overall. With a new head coach looking to make a name for himself while distancing himself with the infamous events that led to the firing of a name that the UC faithful will not soon forget, perhaps Cincinnati was trying too force a change to something that are not and will never be. Perhaps ironically, by moving towards the more stagnant, system-drive offense the Bearcats tried to institute to this juncture of the season they have shown to be more erratic and less controlled. It is in the more loose, free-flowing stylings of the run-and-gun offense/defense that this team seems to thrive – not that it is comes as some great shock to anyone who has been around this team.
While many will be quick to gloss over tonight's performance, making the perhaps valid argument that this was merely Tennessee Tech, the style and comfort in which the players played, as well as the sheer passion players and fans alike seemed to share for once, was something that can be not overlooked. For once, you actually head the sounds of fans cheering and enjoying themselves over the chants of half-drunk fanatics calling for the head of coach and university president alike.