Alex Frank | Sports Director
Saturday night was an opportunity for the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball team to put a stamp on their NCAA Tournament résumé and state their case for a place in the AP Top 25.
The Bearcats did not capitalize on either of them, losing for just the second time this season in a 70-59 defeat at the 18th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs.
“We just failed,” head coach Mick Cronin said. “We failed in a couple areas tonight. They made shots, but a lot of their three-point attempts were off second and third opportunities.”
One way to beat a team who can shoot the ball as well as Mississippi State is to not allow them to get too many offensive rebounds because those can lead to second-chance points.
Getting a stop courtesy of a missed shot is a win on defense, but the Bearcats gave up 11 offensive rebounds which the Bulldogs turned into 14 points.
It also didn’t help Cincinnati that they turned the ball over 13 times, seven of them coming in the second half.
“Our number one thing was to hold them to one shot,” Cronin said. “We failed in that. Second thing is you’ve got to take care of the ball. You can’t turn the ball over against a team like this.”
Bulldogs senior forward Aric Holman pulled down seven offensive rebounds, which helped guards Lamar Peters (Jr.) and Quinndary Weatherspoon (So.) lead Mississippi State with 14 points each.
Confidence was not evident
When playing a team like Mississippi State, who can shoot the living daylights out of the ball, a team simply can’t compete with them by just trying to get to the rim for high-percentage shots.
Teams have to be willing to take their own chances from beyond the perimeter, and the Bearcats just simply didn’t do that Saturday night.
I understand that the Bearcats like to play at a slow pace and not take a lot of three-point shots, but there are going to be times when they are simply going to have to adapt their play on the court in response to what the opposition is doing.
When the Bearcats play against another great shooting team later in the season, they will need to take more chances from beyond the perimeter and play at a faster pace.
The Bulldogs shot 12-23 (52 percent) from three while the Bearcats attempted just 14 shots from beyond the perimeter.
Role players didn’t fulfill their roles
What Saturday’s game proved to me is that this team’s two best scorers, and potentially overall best players, are junior guard Jarron Cumberland sophomore guard Keith Williams.
Cumberland tallied 21 points while Williams racked up 15 points to lead the Bearcats offense.
The other players are role players, but they did not fulfill their roles Saturday night.
Senior guard Cane Broome is someone I referred to last year as the spark for the Bearcats, but he only scored two points on just three shot attempts.
Redshirt-junior forward Tre Scott, who was named to the American Athletic Conference honor roll last week, went a dismal 2-9 that culminated in just five points.
Even though junior forward Nysier Brooks tallied nine points on eight rebounds, he was plagued by foul trouble throughout the game and fouled out with over five minutes remaining in the game.
Sophomore forward Eliel Nsoseme didn’t do much in Brooks’s replacement, as he managed to pull down just two rebounds and did not score any points.
Cincinnati’s bench, in total, produced just seven points compared to 24 for the Bulldogs.
As much as an opportunity was lost in this game, the Bearcats are still 9-2 going into another big nonconference game Wednesday against UCLA Bruins at Fifth Third Arena.
The Bruins will enter Wednesday’s game 7-3 and coming off a surprise 74-72 loss at the hands of another team nicknamed the Bruins: Belmont University.
“I’d rather play somebody like UCLA,” Cronin said. “That’s why I scheduled them. You’ve got to get reality for conference play.”
Cincinnati went on the road last year to Los Angeles and won 77-63 at UCLA, a rematch of the 2017 NCAA Tournament second round game between the two teams.
That makes Wednesday’s game, 9 p.m. on ESPN2, an essential rubber-match for the matchups that have occurred the last two years between UCLA and Cincinnati.