It was a 1st half to forget in Boston tonight if you were a Bearcat fan. Ohio State suffocated Cincinnati’s offense. They are as long as they are fast and the Bearcats couldn’t find any open space on the perimeter not get the ball inside. Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft was simply amazing and I can see why he’s one of the most feared defensive players in the game. Not only does he have extremely good hands but he knows when and how to help out on double teams to create a steal. I’m thankful I don’t have to watch him tear apart UC’s offense again this season. On the opposite end of the floor Ohio State rode their big men Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas as they have been most of this tournament. Sullinger dominated on the glass with 9 rebounds and Thomas notched 20 first half points included 2 three pointers. Essentially the Buckeyes beat the Bearcats at their own game in the first half, winning on the boards and creating turnovers. Cincinnati had 9 giveaways in a first half that looked very much like UC’s first game against Marquette this season.
Opening up the 2nd half the Bearcats needed a spark. They got it in the form of Sean Kilpatrick (who else). For the life of me I still don’t understand why Mick waits so long to design plays that gets him the ball from beyond the arc. He his 2 of those to immediately re-energize the ‘Cats. Jaquon Parker contributed with some tough rebounds and quick points off turnovers. Essentially Ohio State didn’t know what hit them when Cincinnati came out of the locker room with such intensity to begin the half. The catalyst of this comeback was Cashmere Wright. The offense just flows so much better when the ball starts in his hands and he was leading the Bearcats at the point when the took the lead with about 14 minutes to play. But the offense was so obviously disjointed when Cash either wasn’t leading the offense or went to the bench. Ohio State took advantage of this to exert themselves over the ‘Cats. Cincinnati’s lead was gone in a matter of minutes and the Bearcats never got it back. Ohio State ended up winning 81 – 66.
Appropriately, it was Dion Dixon who made the final shot of UC’s season as time expired. Regardless of the loss, Cincinnati had an amazing year. Mick Cronin, his staff, and these players once again proved that UC basketball is fully rebuilt and will be a forced to be reckoned with on a national stage. It will be difficult to replace the presence of Yancy Gates in 2012-13 but the Bearcats return Cash, Killa, Parker, and Justin Jackson. That’s a lot of weapons to work with and although the Bearcats will have questions in the front court, I think they will be fine. Mick is too good of a coach to allow this team to take a dramatic step back.
So while this was a difficult loss to swallow we shouldn’t forget all that Cincinnati accomplished this season. For the first time in program history, UC beat 8 ranked teams. They also advanced to their first Big East Tournament final ever and their first Sweet Sixteen in the Mick Cronin era. It’s been an exciting year and I for one am proud of what this team has accomplished.