Coreontae DeBerry (#22) and Octavius Ellis (#2)
After facing and handling adversity last Saturday night but losing by one point in Lincoln to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats faced and handled even more adversity Wednesday night, this time coming out on top against a gigantic San Diego State team, 71-62, in overtime at Fifth Third Arena. (Click Here for Highlights)
Never ever underestimate the power of facing and handling adversity. Ever. I believe the toughness built by a team (or by yourself in your own life) in the face of adversity is much more important than, say, figuring out “offensive woes,” despite what certain people in the Cincinnati area think.
This is why I focused on four positives from UC’s difficult-to-swallow loss to Nebraska instead of throwing my hands up and bitching about the usual Cincinnati-bitchfest things (The list: 1) Head coach Mick Cronin recruits athletes, not basketball players, 2) Cronin doesn’t recruit shooters, 3) Cronin needs to hire an offensive coordinator). In fact, to further hammer home why it makes much more sense to be positive and patient and to maintain a big-picture, it’s-a-long-season perspective, let’s revisit my four positives from the Nebraska loss:
1) Big Stride From the Ole Miss Game: The young Bearcats didn’t know yet what it would take to compete against a big, experienced team like the Rebels, and allowed Andy Kennedy’s team to shoot 49% from the field while forcing just 6 turnovers. UC packed a better lunch against Nebraska, forcing 22 turnovers and holding the Huskers to 32.7% shooting.
Troy Caupain (#10)
2) Troy Caupain’s Leadership: The 19-year-old from Midlothian, VA laid an egg against Ole Miss, but played with confidence and strength against Nebraska, gutting out a team-high 45 minutes with 5 steals, 6 assists and just 2 turnovers.
3) ***Resiliency Points Gained***: Even though it was an L on the record, battling through a 19-6 early-game deficit with your starting center in foul trouble to cut it to 23-21 at the half registered a gang of points on the “Resiliency Scale.”
4) Cronin’s Masterful Matchup Zone Defense: 22 turnovers, just 3 team assists for Nebraska. For an inexperienced team, to be able to dial up that type of defense keeps the scouting reports simple and allows the kids to focus more so on little things like not fouling as they mature as basketball players.
Now that we’ve re-visited these positives, let’s take a look at how they translated to the next game on the schedule.
You take a look at what 19th-ranked San Diego State has been through to this point in the season: The Aztecs beat a high-powered BYU team in Maui. Steve Fisher’s team then went toe-to-toe with #3 Arizona, eventually losing by just two points.
Fisher sent 6’7″ and 6’8″ at UC’s guards in the backcourt all night. This team is tall, long, athletic and chiseled. I sat 5th row center for this ballgame, and early on, it looked like the Bearcats would never find a way to score enough points to stay in the game, let alone keep this enormous team off the offensive glass, out of the paint or from snapping one of the rims.
After a J.J. O’Brien layup with 12:40 to go in the first half, SDSU led 13-6. Then, Deshaun Morman’s jumper hit the side of the backboard.
But, UC (toughness) got the offensive board and then 6-9, 280-pound junior-college transfer Coreontae DeBerry stuck it in the hole twice, pulling the Bearcats to within 3.
Then, after two free throws by the Aztecs created an 18-12 deficit for UC, Shaq Thomas and the ‘Cats answered with a 10-2 run to head to the locker room with a 2-point lead.
Staring that 19-6 deficit in the face in Lincoln, pulling together as a unit and clawing themselves back in to that game last Saturday instilled the belief in the Bearcat players’ minds that they possess the necessary fortitude. Again, as I’ll continue to harp away, never underestimate those resiliency points gained….especially when the team hasn’t been through the wars yet. (See also: Ohio State football this year.)
On to the second half, and on to more adversity. After an Angelo Chol (and no, I don’t have any idea how that guy’s name is Angelo Chol) dunk gave San Diego State a 43-38 lead, we hit the under 8:00 media timeout. Alright boys, you’ve fought hard, but you’re down by five and the Aztecs are starting to impose their will on the game.
We’ll start with #2 on my list of positives from the Nebraska loss. With the shot clock running down for the 89th time in the game, Caupain drove the lane, scored and got fouled. Huge, tide-stemming bucket. Now we’ll move to #4 on my list. Cronin’s matchup zone forced SDSU into a turnover. Jermaine Sanders then Far-Rockaway-New-Yorked a game-tying 3-pointer from the corner.
That’s how you respond!
Farad Cobb (#21)
From there, the Bearcats played smart on both ends. Junior guard Farad Cobb came up large on the offensive end (12 points, all after halftime), displaying the cojones grande that the team desperately needed. After freshman Gary Clark’s smooth end-of-shotclock finish, UC had built a 5-point lead with under a minute to go. But wait…..
More adversity! Much, much more adversity. First of all, the Aztecs (28% from 3-point range on the season) came down and banged in two three-point shots, sandwiched around two free throws by sophomore Kevin Johnson. Then, as UC held a 57-55 lead with 10 seconds to play, Aztec junior Winston Shepard drove wildly to the basket, tripped over his own feet and lost the ball out of bounds. But wait! A foul was called on Johnson! And, of course, Shepard bangs in both free throws. We’re going to overtime.
Your first thought is, “That was a horrrrrrrrible call.” Your second thought: “Shit, UC has to win this game twice???”
The Bearcat players could have folded or anguished over what could have been. But Caupain banded the crew together and led the way in overtime.
Add about five more “resiliency points” to the collective psyche of the 2014-15 Cincinnati basketball team. Better yet, add a quality non-conference win against a ranked opponent to this team’s NCAA Tournament resume.
You can either focus on stuff like offensive woes or missed free throws, or you can focus on the big picture. And in my mind, for this particular group of kids, I love the big picture potential. Remember, this is only Game 9. Eighty percent of the players in UC’s rotation are sophomores or didn’t play Division I college basketball last season. We’ve yet to see what the finished product will be with this group, and we may not see it until Game 20….or maybe even Game 45 (next season). But I’ll tell you this: Because of the coaching staff’s ability to teach and preach defense, when this team reaches its offensive potential (and despite what a lot of folks around Cincinnati may think, there is a great deal of offensive potential), it will be THE most dangerous team Mick has had as head coach at Cincinnati.
Thanks for reading. Stay positive. Stay patient.
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