Justin Cashman | Staff Reporter
The Cincinnati Bearcats avoided their fifth consecutive overtime game by pulling away late against the Wichita State Shockers and winning 67-64. This keeps Cincinnati tied with Houston as the No. 1 team in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) with an 11-4 conference record and 18-9 overall record.
This was the second and last time these two teams will meet this season, with Cincinnati winning both matchups by a combined four points. This win also marked head coach John Brannen’s 100th career win, and increased the Bearcats winning streak against Wichita State to six games.
This was a much-needed win for the Bearcats after suffering a bad loss at home to Central Florida in double overtime a few days prior.
“We don’t need no sense of urgency, we got to come out and play our game,” Bearcats senior guard Jarron Cumberland responded when asked if the team felt an extra sense of urgency coming into this game after the UCF game. “We just come out and follow the game plan and the results will come out by themselves.”
Cumberland looked sharp all night, scoring 24 points on 3-11 shooting from the field, including a career-high for free throws attempted and made in a game after going 16-22 from the charity stripe. Getting to the line at that rate didn’t come easy, coming up with a slight limp a few times and an elbow to the mouth late in the game.
Cumberland confirmed he would be fine moving forward despite being very sore. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if freshman guard Zach Harvey was sore following the game too, stepping in and playing key minutes for Keith Williams who got into early foul trouble.
Harvey played a physical brand of basketball, providing help defense down low on Shockers senior center Jaime Echenique despite being completely undersized.
“I want to acknowledge our benchwas outstanding,” said Brannen. “Zach came in and did a great job.”
Harvey would finish with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals in close to 13 minutes of action.
Both teams were toe?for-toe? with one another throughout the entirety of the game, as Cincinnati only led by three at halftime and both teams scored 36 in the second half. Cincinnati’s perimeter defense held Wichita State to only 7-26 from three and containing the Shockers sharpshooting leading scorer, sophomore guard Erik Stevenson, to only 1-8 from outside.
While Stevenson has shown his ability to shoot it from distance, the crowd seemed more intrigued about another player on the court’s three-point capability. You could feel the tension in the air when Bearcats backup center Mamoudou Diarra (So.) had the ball in the hands at the top of the key and there wasn’t a defender within five feet of him.
Diarra seemed to ponder the idea of pulling up for three in the tightly contested game but decided to pass it away. It only took a few seconds for Diarra to get the ball back in his hands in the same spot and same situation. This time, he decided to pull up for the shot and drained only his fifth career three-pointer. When John Brannen was asked if he’ll talk to Diarra about the crowd baiting him into shooting a three, Brannen jokingly responded, “He was 1-1 (from three) … 2-2 against Wichita.”
The Bearcats only have three regular season games left, and Brannen already considering them to be playing “March basketball.” The next and last time Cincinnati will be playing in Fifth Third Arena this season will be against Temple on March 7 at 8 p.m.. Their next game is March 1 at Houston on ESPN for the outright lead of the AAC.