However, with their backs against the wall and the thought of their second three-game losing streak of the season (six of their last seven) hanging over their heads, the Bearcats did what they had to do to come out off the court with a victory.
Though they did not accomplish the feats you typically expect this Bearcat team to accomplish, this Bad News Bears version of the Cincinnati Bearcats showed a guile and a "by any means necessary" attitude that gave them the ability to pull a victory out the jaws of a certain defeat. Even without services of James White for most of the game (suffering from a nasty ankle injury and enduring the flu which limited his minutes (16) and effectiveness (6 points)), this team never quit and did what it took to get back to .500 in the conference and seventh place in the Big East.
Claws extended, out on the hunt, the ‘Cats were out for blood. It did not matter if it was their opponents blood, coming from bumping them around and playing the physical hardnosed style that has made UC one of the most loved (and hated) programs in college basketball, or their own, diving on the floor in an effort to recover lose balls that should have been secured, UC was blood thirsty. Trading in the black and red of their uniforms for the black and blue of bruises on their body, Cincinnati put forth an impressive yeomen-like effort that spurred a 10-minute stretch in the second half that led them to victory without the services of the senior swingman and leader.
"Find a way!" that is what Jihad Muhammad and his Bearcat brethren thought to themselves when they saw another potential season-ruining injury grace their black cat laden, must go under a ladder path. "We weren't thinking about James' injury really. We just needed a win no matter how we got it."
Those poignant words from Muhammad, who has been reinserted into the starting rotation the past two games, perfectly embody the way in which Cincinnati managed to grab victory by the horns and wrestle it away from the Bulls. Muhammad, who shot his way to his second best offensive showing of the season (18 points) on the strength of 7-of-14, 4-of-9 from behind the arc, and fellow role player Cedric McGowan carried the Bearcats to victory.
McGowan brought the toughness and aggressiveness that usually standout performer Eric Hicks brings to the table. McGowan finished the game with a career-high 18 points, matching Muhammad for team-high honors. McGowan also secured his second-best rebounding total as a Bearcat with 14 (20 against DePaul), including seven big offensive rebounds that lead to foul trouble for a thin-benched USF squad and points for the Bearcats.
The grit and determination McGowan displayed helped propel the ‘Cats to a dominating second half effort. Cincinnati reeled off 45 points in the second half (28 in the first half) despite a terrible shooting night overall. It was grit, grim, and sweat that poured off the Cincinnati players during that second half that earned them (or at least got them) this victory.
Players like Hicks and struggling freshman point guard Devan Downey (who was pulled from tonight's starting line up in favor of Ronald Allen do to his poor play as of late) fed off the energy of McGowan and Muhammad.
Hicks, how had his first half woes documented earlier, was revitalized in the second half when the ‘Cats regained the lead for the first time since 17-16 when McGowan fittingly put back his own miss with 13:53 to play (42-41). Hicks finished the game with 13 points and 11 rebounds (five offensive), and swatted away six misguided USF shots. It was that type of play, the grind you down, out work you style that allowed UC to come out ahead on this night, not the flashy, up-and-down finesse style we have become used to seeing them portray to this portion on the season.
It was the hustle and muscle of UC that led USF headman Robert McCullum to proclaim this was the most outworked, out toughed his team has been all season. Despite being out rebounded by an average of three boards per contest, UC, on the strong shoulders of McGowan and company, hammered the much bigger Bulls on the glass 43 to 32, including 18 to 9 on the offensive glass. The offensive glass accounted for roughly thirty-percent of the Bearcats offensive on the night (21 of 73 points)
UC took advantage of hustle and muscle opportunities that have helped get this piecemeal roster to 15 wins. UC saw eight points off turnovers (11 overall) and 14 second chance points (21 total) in the second half make up for a 4-for-14 night from behind the arc
Not only did the Bearcats struggle to hit with their jumper during tonight's showing, but the ‘Cats failed to force turnovers and breakout on the run in the fashion they are usually accustomed. UC only forced an error prone Bulls squad into 14 turnovers, one of their lowest totals on the season. One reason for this was Cincinnati's inability to get steals (five for the game).
However, the Bearcats were still able to get on the run because of their unforeseen aptitude to outlet collected defensive rebounds. UC did a fantastic job for one of the first times this season at pulling down their opponents missed shots and quickly getting the ball to streaking teammates.
One such benefactor was the recently maligned Downey. Despite being held to just 3-of-9 and 12 points on the night, the speedy dynamo used his quickness to get to the basket and create fast break and free-throw opportunities for the Bearcats after receiving the outlet pass. Downey finished 6-of-8 from the line, making all four attempts over the final twenty minutes of action.