The Cincinnati Bearcats again lost in the closing seconds, this time to the Xavier Musketeers 59-57 in the 82nd Crosstown Shootout. UC has now dropped their last two games to their intracity rival.
But despite the loss this was perhaps Cincinnati’s best performance in weeks.
The Bearcats didn’t have a prayer stopping Xavier in the first half. Cincinnati’s defense failed time and time again to collapse on the open shooter on the perimeter, who was more often than not offered good looks at the basket. As a result the Musketeers nailed 8 of 15 threes and shot almost 57% from the field.
Dee and Myles Davis were unguardable for Xavier. The duo combined for 7 of 9 from beyond the arc with the latter going perfect from three. There’s something about what the Crosstown Shootout brings out of Musketeer players as Dee Davis had made just 6 three’s total since the turn of the year. He was 5 of 5 tonight.
So it wasn’t especially surprising, when you look at the box score not necessarily if you looked at any game prediction, that UC was down 12 at halftime.
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But in the final 20 minutes the Bearcats chipped away at that deficit, finally regaining the lead at 55-53 behind a huge second half from Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis. For the final 70 seconds Cincinnati and Xavier traded punches until the Musketeers emerged victorious behind a pair of Trevon Bluiett free throws.
Unlike last season when UC was ran out of US Bank Arena by a flurry of Xavier threes and I was forced into the fetal position in the corner of my apartment, I think we as Bearcats fans can hold our heads high.
Cincinnati continues to shoot well, tonight going 46% from the field. UC’s front court was the key to the comeback and it was cathartic experiencing watching them not only exert themselves in the paint but the guards feeding them from the outside. Clark, Ellis, Shaq Thomas, and Coreontae DeBerry accounted for 65% of Cincinnati’s points tonight.
Additionally, for the first time since Central Florida on January 25th the Bearcats had single-digit turnovers. 6 tonight, in fact, their lowest of the season.
And defensively, oh me oh my! Xavier is one of the best offensive teams in the country, averaging 77 points per game. UC held them to just 59 tonight and while the Musketeers shot over 50% from the field and a rather annoying 59% from three, turned the ball over 15 times. Plus the Bearcats owned the defensive class, allowing Xavier just 4 second chances off missed shots.
When you put all of that together, the consistent scoring, the low turnovers, the stifling defense, you get a team that’s raring for a run to the NCAA Tournament. Xavier is never going to go down easy and Cincinnati sure gave it everything they had tonight. But sometimes you just come up short and the Bearcats did so tonight.
The bigger picture matters right now. UC’s on the cusp of becoming a bubble team with losses to East Carolina and Tulane on their resume. But performances like tonight will win them the majority of their games down the stretch and I don’t think anyone will raise hell if Cincinnati has their name called on Selection Sunday.