With under 10 seconds to play in a back-and-forth, up-and-down contest, a missed opportunity by the Providence Friars to pull in an offensive rebound after a Donnie McGrath three-point try with 6 seconds remaining in regulation allowed 5-8 Bearcat burner Devan Downey to run the length of the court, draw contact, sink a pair of free throws and give the Bearcats a 66-64 over their new conference foe.
The Friars' Downey-like equivalent, Sharaud Curry (12 points), took nearly the same amount of time as the Bearcat dynamo to make it the length of the court, journeyed three-quarters of the court before tossing up and in-and-out floater that would have sent this nail-biter of a finish into regulation.
The Bearcats (18-9, 7-6), who are now in the midst of there third winning streak of the season, were able to fend off an impressive rebounding and defensive effort by a nothing-to-loose Providence club. The Bearcats, who according to Coach Andy Kennedy need one more victory to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament (and most likely the Big East version), came into the game off the emotional high of beating a tough Syracuse team at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday.
The Friars, who drop to one game below .500 on the season (11-12, 4-8), pounded Cincinnati on the glass, out rebounding the rough and tumble Bearcat squad by 10, 51-41, and held the streaky ‘Cats to 31-percent shooting for the contest.
Despite the woes that they displayed on both ends of the floor at times, the Bearcats never lacked one of the generally overlooked, but incredibly important aspects of the game, heart!
Epitomizing the resiliency and fortitude the Bearcats displayed all 40 minutes was Eric Hicks, who displayed an incredibly poor all-around showing, never let his team feel that he had given up. Hicks, who was held to just three points and nine rebounds on the contest, as well as being beaten up by PC Geoff McDermott all contest long to the rate of 16 rebounds, came up big for the ‘Cats late by doing the little things. The veteran not-so-big big man came up big with a basket late in the contest (5:05), his one during a 1-for-13 shooting night, and was responsible for tipping he ball out to Downey on his final charge to the basket.
The Bearcats narrowly avoided throwing the game away. Though literally they played one of their cleanest games of the season, committing only nine turnovers (three during the crucial second half), figuratively they struggled.
For most of the contest the ‘Cats, despite possessing many of the characteristics that led them to their early season success in the category, could not seem to have the ball "bounce" their way in the hustle category, either on paper or on the court. The Friars refused to let the ‘Cats jolt away, even though they threatened with a series of runs in both the first and second halves.
After a closely played opening few minutes of the first half, the Bearcats managed to jump out to an impressive nine-point lead, 23-14 and seemed to be in the driver's seat. However, foul trouble, a few errant calls by the officials, which included a questionable call on Chadd Moore on an alley-oop and one to James White that resulted in a five point swing) along with five points by Donnie McGrath (16 points) helped get the Friars back into the contest, noting-up the score at 27 with 4:30 left in the half.
That stretch helped see each of the four members of the UC Bearcat rotation (White, Downey, Jihad Muhammad and Chadd Moore) get into first-half foul trouble with two apiece, including several off questionable offensive call or touching violations on defense well away from the basket.
The first half saw White, the season-long offensive leader for the Bearcats, have one of his best all-around halves of play this season. White, who finished with 14 points during the half, including 12 of the Bearcat's first 20 points to open the contest. However, the senior did more than just shoot the ball and get into the air for uncontested dunks on the break, the characterization that has led to many NBA Draft analysts calling White's game "soft". In fact, White led the ‘Cats in rebounding during the half with six boards, including four of the teams nine offensive rebounds (and the first four of the game). The senior also scored 22 points, one points shy of his season-high.
White was aided in his first half efforts by the standout play of Downey. Though struggling to just 7 points during the second half, Downey scored nine points in the first half, including six of the team's first twenty (12 of which came from White).
The half saw a much more balanced scoring attack from the Friars, as four PC players scored at least five points and accounted for all but two of their first half output. The backcourt of Curry and McGrath scored 19 of those 32.
With this win the Bearcats have achieved their third winning streak of the season, and help to keep their impressive 40-minute display against Syracuse from losing some of its luster. As Coach Kennedy said to the media, and the players reiterated, a loss tonight would have undone all the good that was achieved last week, and "put them back in the same position they were in before the Syracuse game".
Cincinnati will look to continue their march towards March Madness this Thursday, when the surging Villanova Wildcats look to take Fifth Third Arena by storm. A win over this giant-killing, no. 4 ranked Wildcat would not only solidify UC's NCAA/Big East Tournament lives and give the team their third three-game winning streak of the season, but would help give a team that was supposed to fold with a no-name interim coach leading this talented depleted team of football players, freshman and overachievers the confidence they will need to make a name for themselves as this season wears down.