When Justin Jackson went down about five minutes into the game, clutching his ankle and grimacing, it looked like disaster had befallen the Bearcats. While he appeared in halftime warm ups and his status remains up in the air, UC had to do without him for most of this game. And for the most part Cincinnati responded well. Sean Kilpatrick matched a season high with 29 points and Troy Caupain notched himself 9 assists, both picking up the team with Jackson chained to the bench. And for three-quarters of the game it appeared as if UC would do well without their senior forward locking down the paint.
But at the 12:31 mark in the second half it all began to go sour for the Bearcats even though their lead ballooned to a game high 19 points. The Owls steadily put everything together on the offensive end and took advantage of a Justin Jackson-free low post. They abused David Nyarsuk and Titus Rubles in the paint. As the interior game starting working for Temple, the Bearcats got lazy on the perimeter, allowing prolific scorer Dalton Pepper to find his shot from beyond the arc. The senior guard hit four treys in the final twelve and a half minutes, helping in large part to cut a seemingly safe 19 point UC lead to zero with 37 seconds remaining.
Mick Cronin wisely called a timeout to put the game in Sean Kilpatrick’s hands. He came through at the free throw line, burying both of his 1-and-1’s to put UC up 78-76 with seven seconds to go. But the biggest play of the game came from an unlikely source, Jermaine Sanders. Temple inbounded the ball and worked it quickly to guard Josh Brown who cut to the baseline with a seemingly clear path the basket. But Sanders exploded from the paint and blocked his shot in a manner that would make the injured Justin Jackson proud. It saved the game for Cincinnati and after a pair of Kevin Johnson free throws gave the Bearcats a 80-76 win.
So now Cincinnati is 19-2 and 8-0 in the AAC but have some big challenges ahead of them. Not only do they travel to 12th ranked Louisville in a couple of days but have to figure out quickly what to do if Justin Jackson is out for a sizable amount of time. Maybe he’ll be back by Thursday, maybe he’ll be benched until March, but regardless Mick Cronin has to prepare for the worst. Hopefully Jackson is back blocking shots sooner rather than later.