The University of Cincinnati picked up their eighth-straight victory Friday night with their 105-69 victory over North Carolina A&T thanks in large part to the double-dose of home-court familiarity for UC senior big man Eric Hicks.
"We're on a nice win streak. You can't be mad when you're on a win streak," said Hicks, who had no reason to be mad of Friday night, and not just because of the numbers he put up on the scoreboard.
Hicks, a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, scored 24 points, while ripping down 10 rebounds (5 offensive) and sending away seven shots with many of his schoolboy friends and family present at Fifth Third Arena.
"I was looking forward to this game," said Hicks about the North Carolina reunion. "I have a lot of friends that play for them (North Carolina A&T). I had a boatload of family members that came up. It was just great to have a good performance against them."
Hicks led the way for the ‘Cats in the first half, sparking the Black and Red with 16 crucial points.
However, the Bearcats were not forced to ride the broad shoulder of their 6-7 strong man in the middle alone, as five other members of the UC roster finished with double-digit figures in scoring. James White (23) and Armein Kirkland (11) joined Hicks as seniors coming up big against the Aggies, while newcomers Devan Downey (13), Cedric McGowan (12) and Ronald Allen (11; off the bench) all pitched in for the win.
Downey, a freshman standout from just South of the Tar Heel State (Chester, S.C.), joined Hicks in earning a double-double for the contest. The speedy dynamo that was known more for his scoring then passing in high school dished out 11 assists.
However, while the 105 scored (the second time the Bearcats have reached that number this season (105 vs. Tennessee Tech, 12/17)), will certainly be the most glaring statistic to most fans, it was undoubtedly the tenacious style of defense displayed that impressed most of those in the know.
While the Bearcat is not an animal necessarily known for it's ferocious style in the wild, this pack of ‘Cats resembled some of the Wild's most vicious Big Cats they way they went at the Aggies, trying to tear their throats out on every possession. For the contest, UC finished with a mind-boggling 40 points off NC A&T turnovers thanks to 13 steals (White, 4) and eight blocks (Hicks, 7).
While the aggressive style definitely showed at times, Coach Kennedy was one to notice that this effort, will impressive at times, would not be enough against superior competition to that of this evening.
"We survived it. I'm not very fond of those (games). I'm fond of the result. It's hard. I thought our guys had their moments, but our intensity was not sustained at a very high level," said first-year Bearcat Head Coach, who improved his career-mark to a 11-2 with the win.
Seeing his team as getting lax at times and recognizing the difficulty of seeing a team stay energized in the game where the scoreboard cannot truly capture the overall dominance of one team over another, Kennedy realizes that things like this are going to happen against some of the "lesser" foes in their non-conference schedule.
"That is a little bit to be expected. I thought they (North Carolina A&T) competed very hard and he's (head coach Jerry Eaves) doing a great job and hopefully it will turn around for them."
With that being said, it will be very important to see how the Bearcats "turnaround" and respond to this outing, not letting their heads get to big for the hats they have been given, as UC looks ready to kickoff the conference season.
"I think the anticipation of the Big East is directly upon us and I, for one, am excited about it," said Kennedy. "I know our kids will be excited about it. I didn't even want to talk about the relevance of being in the Big East prior to us taking care of our non-league."
While Kennedy did not want to bring up the magnitude of the potential highs and lows his team could endure from now until the mid- to late-March, largely determining the fate of the Bearcat postseason hopes and the future of some members of the UC family, it is clear that the team is already well aware of that fact...and ready!
"It is to the point where we have to take every game serious. This is what everybody has been looking forward to. Some people still have us written off and that's fine. We just need to keep on playing good," said Hicks.
"We need to come out and play hard and get ready for DePaul. I'm happy right now, but you can't stay happy for long. We have to get back to work and get prepared for DePaul."
The Bearcats will kickoff their inception to the Big East with a little taste of Conference USA, as UC will take on former C-USA foe and new Big East member DePaul on Wednesday.