Alex Frank | Sports Director
The Bearcats looked every bit the part of the defending American Athletic Conference regular-season champions Wednesday night in their 93-61 thumping of Tulane.
They also looked like a team that could repeat as regular-season champions this season.
There was junior guard Jarron Cumberland leading the way with 22 points, as last week’s conference player of the week could be in the midst of building a very strong campaign for conference Player of the Year.
Cumberland leads the conference in three-point shooting, as he is adding his ability as a shooter to his already great knack as a scorer.
“I worked on it a lot staying late after practice, shooting before practice,” Cumberland said. “Just getting my shots ready, getting shots that I’m going to be taking in the game.”
Senior guard Cane Broome was in the starting five for the first time since the third game of the season, and he sparked the Bearcats offense right from the get-go, while also showing senior leadership in preventing a potential brawl that would have been started by teammate Eliel Nsoseme (So/F).
Fellow senior guard Justin Jenifer quietly continued a season that has elevated his status last season from the Bearcats most-improved player to the entire American Athletic Conference’s this season.
Even on a nigh when Tre Scott (R-Jr/F) and Nysier Brooks (Jr/F) struggled in the frontcourt, Nsoseme and freshman guard Rashawn Fredericks picked up the slack combining for 14 points.
To be the best you got to beat the best, and the rest of the conference better be on high alert after what the Bearcats did stemming a very calm and weak Green Wave team that played like they were still hung over from New Year’s Eve down in New Orleans.
Sure, Cincinnati is most likely going to, and is expected to, get the best shot from the other teams in the conference, but the Bearcats are the champions until somebody dethrones them.
Cincinnati outplayed and outcompeted Tulane on a night where it seemed like the Bearcats could do whatever they felt like doing; make a three, force an air-ball from a Tulane shooter, corral a loose ball, or even dish out a behind-the-back pass for a three.
“If you can get 67 shots off and have 20 assists, it’s tough to beat you,” head coach Mick Cronin said. “We kept the tempo up where we wanted to keep it. Once we were able to keep stops, we got out on the break. That’s where we got some separation.”
In a game that was chippy at times, they acted like a championship team as exemplified by Broome late in the first half.
After Nsoseme was slammed to the court by Tulane senior forward Blake Paul, he came up looking like he wanted to punch the living daylights out of him.
But the senior leadership of Broome wouldn’t let that happen as he rushed in and held Nsoseme back, allowing him to gather his cool before heading to the free-throw line following a flagrant two foul that ejected Paul from the game.
Speaking of Broome, he got the start tonight for his first appearance in the starting five since Nov. 16, 2018 against Milwaukee.
Head coach Mick Cronin emphasized leading up to Wednesday night’s game that you have to be able to score in conference games because the familiarity between the teams can cause games to come to a screeching halt.
Broome’s 17-point performance on 6-7 shooting resurfaced the point I repeatedly made last year that Broome is a spark for the Bearcats.
Getting time off in between games also allowed Broome to return home to East Hartford, Connecticut and forget about his recent struggles.
“Just getting home clearing my mind for a few days helped a lot,” Broome said.
You could tell he was locked in right from the opening tip when he beat two Green Wave players to the ball and drove to the basket for an easy lay-up.
I also believed Broome should have been the starting point guard last year, ahead of Jenifer, because of his ability to ignite the Bearcats offense.
Going into this year, it was expected that both senior guards would be in the starting lineup, but we didn’t know just how efficient of a scorer and great of a ball-handler Jenifer would be.
The Baltimore, Maryland native entered last Saturday leading the nation with an 8.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he showed just how valuable he is to this Bearcats team with an 18-point performance on 6-7 shooting, including 4-5 from the perimeter. He also handed out five assists and did not turn the ball over.
It really is marvelous to see how this team has come together to not only win games but dominate them.
Just under two months ago, there were serious concerns about this team following a season-opening loss at home to Ohio State.
Fast forward three days into 2019, and the Bearcats are just as lethal a force in the American this year as they were last year.
Cronin lamented about his team’s defensive effort in the second half against the Buckeyes even though it was the Bearcats offense that struggled mightily to score points.
You know what, though, Cronin was right, and now he’s got the defense figured out and the offense continues to get better.
“We believe in what we do defensively, how hard we play and how we win games,” Cronin said. “But that being said, we have to become a team that scores consistently in the 70s and 80s. If we can do that, we really like our chances.”
Other scores from the American Athletic Conference Wednesday night
Houston 74 Tulsa 56
UCF 78 Temple 73
SMU 82 East Carolina 54
South Florida 76 UConn 68