The Cincinnati Bearcats improved to 2-0 to start the season with a 68-57 win over the NC State Wolfpack thanks to the help of a suffocating second-half defense. While Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson all contributed double-digit figures, Justin Jackson was arguably the determinant factor in this AAC vs. ACC matchup with his first career double-double.
For the first time this season, the Bearcats didn’t give up multiple three-pointers in a row to start the game nor did they stall on their own offensive possessions. The Bearcats were first on the board with their first possession of the game. Refreshing, isn’t it? The Bearcat defense that Mick Cronin has used as a selling point for years now was also present from the tipoff as the Wolfpack answered with two fast turnovers to start the game.
Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles both had a strong half with each contributing a few blocks and a handful of points as well. I’m really starting to grow on Rubles. He’s definitely showing more flashes of brilliance like we saw at the beginning of last season before settling for his three-point jumper. I hope we don’t see that again. Ever. I do, however, like how he’s driving to the rim and making space in the lane. He’s starting to develop a nice mid-range jumper as well.
The hype surrounding Jackson this season is real. He definitely has bulked up this season and that is apparent in the way he shrugs off defenders on his way to the rim. Jackson is just a fundamentally-sound player. Once known solely for his defensive mindset, Jackson has developed to become a great all-around player. He’s always making space and taking smart shots. Coaches like that. I do too. I should start a peewee basketball team.
First half of the game was a great example of fun college basketball. Aside from some questionable officiating on both sides of the ball, both the Wolfpack and the Bearcats had solid performances shooting 39% and 40%, respectively. Both sides remained tied at 35 apiece going into the locker room.
Immediately starting the second half, the Bearcats got off to a great start with the help of some more nice defensive pressure as well as a Justin Jackson fast-break soaring dunk assisted by Sean Kilpatrick. I’m talking #SCTop10 worthy. Sean Kilpatrick read the Wolfpack point guard beautifully, jumped the pass for a steal, then made the quick pass to Jackson for the dunk.
The game continued throughout the half with several lead changes. Jackson wasn’t done, however. A few possessions later, Jackson had a beautiful block on one of the Wolfpack forwards. This cued the turning point in the game.
With the help of a few more blocks from Rubles and Jackson, as well as a timely blocked three from Jermaine Sanders, the Bearcats opened up a 10 point lead with 6 minutes left in the game and never looked back. Defense was the name of the game and was what truly granted the Bearcats with the win. The Bearcats held the Wolfpack to 27% shooting in the 2nd half.
NC State is a very talented team, but none of the adjustments implemented were very effective in quelling the Bearcat offense or defense. Not even 6 men on the court. Yes, it happened.
Sean Kilpatrick finished the night as the night’s leading scorer for both teams with 21 points, 3 assists, and shot 8 for 8 from the line. Titus finished a strong 1st half performance with an equally impressive 2nd half, finishing with 14 points and 7 boards. Justin Jackson finished with 10 points, 10 boards, and 4 blocks. He’s just fun. Defenders also seem to be afraid of him. You need someone scary like that on your team.
The bench performed admirably with 13 total points. Freshmen Troy Coupain and Jermaine Lawrence accounted for 5 points and 4 points each, respectively. All 5 of Coupain’s points came from the line. It’s refreshing to see a freshmen drive so naturally to the rim. The much-touted five-star recruit Jermaine Lawrence also displayed flashes of creative brilliance but was not able to get the bounce on several occasions. He still seems to have a small case of the freshman nerves, but he’s got nice footwork that opens up space. Jermaine Sanders reeled in the remaining 4 points. Simple math is fun.
Overall, it was a sound, fundamental showing for the Bearcats in their 2nd game of the 2013 season. I’ve said it before, but this team is just fun to watch. This team has talent, athleticism, and depth. Mick utilized 11 players tonight and each contributed to the win over a talented ACC team. They’ve grown to adopt and fully embrace Mick Cronin’s new drive-to-the-rim first offensive scheme and it really is paying off. The Bearcats outscored the Wolfpack 36-22 in the paint tonight and have done the same with each team they have faced so far this season. That’s something anybody in Clifton can get used to.
If the Bearcats can continue to play in this fashion, we’re all in for a very fun inaugural season in the AAC.