There is no subjectivity on the court (aside from the occasional blind-as-a-bat referee we have all directed our not-so-kind words at in a not-so-friendly manner). The best team, on that day, wins the games and gets to move on. That is the beauty of postseason basketball, at least you don't feel like you are one of those unfortunate "snubs" that are so often referenced during the course of the week leading up to the unofficial national holiday Selection Sunday.
While players like Devan Downey admitted an apathetic approach to this game coming in, citing the lack of an invite to the NCAA Tournament, the call to action by many of the Bearcat seniors rallied the troops and pushed them to victory.
"‘Not tonight, not tonight,' he just kept saying that over and over," said Devan Downey about his senior leader Eric Hicks. "He just kept telling us that he was not about to let his career end like this; not at home."
Hicks did his part all game long, leading the team on both the scoring sheet and on the court. It took players like Hicks, players that were willing to do the dirty work and overcome adversity (as they have done all season long) that sealed the deal for the ‘Cats.
Hick and Cedric McGowan (aka Baby Eric) each finished with double-doubles on the contest, going for at least 20 and 13 apiece. Hicks finished with a game-high 23 points, leading five Bearcats in double figures, while establishing a new career-high of 18 rebounds collected. McGowan finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Charlotte's Carl Withers followed similar suit to the two Bearcats, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds of his own.
The Bearcats had no choice but to pound the ball inside all game long and take the baskets from their opponent. Not a single bucket after the first 10 minutes of action could earn the label of given to the Bearcats, as every point was instead earned, beaten out of the equally hungry 49ers by the ‘Cats "refuse to lose attitude". There was nothing "easy" but anything UC achieved tonight –least of all earning respectability.
"If we lost tonight all the talk about being snubbed or not being in the [NCAA] Tournament would have been for nothing," said Downey about his team, the #1 overall seed in the 2006 NIT. "How can you call yourself a snub if you can't even get out of the first round of the NIT?"
After an early surge of three pointers and fast-paced offensive dominance, the Bearcats slowed down mightily, and seemed to lack that energy and the "luck" that was needed to get by tonight's opponent.
Perhaps it was fitting that the 49ers were the ones wearing green during the second round of the NIT Friday night, as there was no luck for the Bearcats on this St. Patrick's Day. While Charlotte only collected on 43-percent of their three-point attempts and 35-percent of their field goals for the contest, it seemed at times like they could not miss. Every time the Bearcats would make a dent in the deficit facing them the 49ers would seemingly respond with a big stop, forced turnover, trip to the foul line, or improbable long distance bomb that relinquished any momentum UC had built up. It was like clockwork!
The Bearcats had to "hustle and work" their way through this one. Yet, ironic as it may be, for the first time this season it did not show up in the stat sheet. The Bearcats, who usually rely heavily upon the "Hustle Formula" that Bearcat Insider and I use to determine the relative success or failure of the team game-in and –out, came out on the losing end of this equation tonight. The Bearcats lost 56-36 in the formula that takes into account opponent's turnovers, steals, points off turnovers, fast break points, and second chance points. The Bearcats were even pounded by nine on the offensive glass, 19-10 (though much of the credit has to be given to Charlotte's inability to make a shot at times).
So what, may I ask, was the difference in tonight's outcome? Most attendance tonight, including players, coaches and officials, would most likely tell you it was the electric atmosphere. While there have been larger crowds in the now 17-year history of Fifth Third Arena (which fittingly opened with a meeting between the Bearcats and their next round opponent the Minnesota Golden Gophers), tonight's 6,775 fans (capacity is 13, 176) sounded louder than some crowds that would total three-times as large.
Seeing their team go down as many as eight points midway through the second period after getting out to an early lead, the Bearcat faithful, which have adopted this team in almost cult-like manner, never sat on their hands or let their energy and passion die down. If ever before there was a need for recognition of a sixth-man, the crowd, tonight would be that instance. Despite there sluggishness and reluctance to embrace this ragtag bunch of loveable losers headed by a no-name coach they were here tonight – larger than ever! – and Coach Andy Kennedy and his players are not quick to let them know their attendance – both physically and emotionally—did not go unappreciated.
The Bearcats will continue their march in their ninth-ever appearance in the NIT (first since 1991) as the University of Minnesota invades the Queen City and looks to undo all the good that was accomplished tonight.
Bearcat Insider will have audio clips from the media room later today.