Alex Frank | Sports Director
The Cincinnati Bearcats 68-41 victory over the Tusculum Pioneers in the first game in newly-renovated Fifth-Third Arena Thursday night came in an exhibition.
That’s a good thing.
“We were too cool, too good to play hard,” head coach Mick Cronin said. “Once we started playing hard, things changed a little bit. You’ll make a lot more shots if you just worry about hustle and defense. If you stand around, just want to shoot jump shots, you don’t get yourself lost in the game, hustling, scrapping, fighting; you’re not gonna make shots.”
Even though opening a new arena can be exciting, sometimes that can create pressure for the home team.
That was the case in the first few minutes for the Bearcats, who missed their first six shots.
Their offense got going, though, as they steadily built a 28-20 halftime lead.
“I wish we would have moved in last week,” Cronin said. “But it is what it is; get it all out of the way today. It’s no excuse. This continues to be my biggest concern is not scoring, defense around the rim.
“So we got to get the right mindset, then you have a chance. Once you get the right mindset, you have a chance. We got to have a good mindset.”
The Bearcats struggled all first half to consistently put the ball in the basket, shooting just 9-29 from the field including 3-14 from three-point territory.
Junior-transfer guard Rashawn Fredericks was one of three players to tally five points in the first half for the Bearcats as they tried to create separation from a physically pesky Tusculum team.
“It’s hard to pull away when you can’t make a shot,” head coach Mick Cronin said. “I thought we let our lack of making a shot affect our effort.”
Three-point play: Three things we learned from the Bearcats victory
1. Eliel Nsoseme can rebound
The sophomore reserve forward/center was a force on both sides of the ball on the glass.
After averaging just 5.7 minutes per game last year, look for the Kinshasa, Congo native to have an expanded role this year, despite Cronin saying he’s been playing with a splint on his finger.
“Oh gosh yeah [he’ll play a lot more minutes]” Cronin said. “In fairness to him, he’s worked really hard on his free throws. He’s made a really high percentage the last five months because we chart all that stuff.”
2. This team has a long way to go
Letting a Division II team that went 6-21 last year hang around for nearly 30 out of 40 minutes is not an encouraging sign.
Despite closing the game on a 26-5 run, the Bearcats only led 42-36 with just over 12 minutes to play in the second half.
“My biggest challenge with inexperienced teams; these guys don’t know how hard it is to show up every night,” Cronin said. “There’s a difference between being on a team and being the reason a team wins.
“Tre, Nysier and Jarron; all of them are talented kids, but they’re now in a new role where they’re going to be the reason why we win or lose. And you got to show up every night with the right attitude.”
The three players Cronin mentioned combined for 22 points on just 7-19 shooting.
Junior center Nysier Brooks only attempted two shots in the game, with five of his seven points coming from the line.
Junior guard Jarron Cumberland struggled mightily shooting as he went 4-10 without a three-point basket.
The biggest concern, for me, coming into this season was if there would be a hangover from last year’s devastating loss to Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
While I don’t think there is, when a team loses three players at the caliber of Jacob Evans III, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington, there can be growing pains for the new-look team at the beginning of the following season.
“We got to be a lot tougher,” Cronin said. “So that’s going to be my challenge all year with these guys. It’s getting new guys to realize they’re going to be the reason whether we win or lose. We got guys in a new position. They don’t play well, they don’t bring it, we’re going to lose. I got to get the job done. That’s my job with these guys.
“It happens in college basketball; guys graduate. It’s a tough business. You lose your best three players. You can’t keep them forever.”
3. The Fifth-Third Arena renovations make it an awesome venue
I’ll end what I learned from tonight’s game on a positive note and say that Fifth-Third Arena looks like a true basketball arena.
The scoreboards on all four sides, the ability to see the action well from the concourses and the proximity of the student section in relation to the court; those are just a few features that are going to make Fifth-Third Arena a great atmosphere for the Bearcats to play.
Senior guard Justin Jenifer went down midway through the second half and was helped off to the locker room.
Cronin said after the game that there was not an update on the Baltimore, Maryland native and that he didn’t even know what was wrong with him.
“I don’t think it’s that bad of an issue, but I really don’t know,” Cronin said.
Highlight of the night
Despite all the Bearcats offensive struggles, senior guard Cane Broome picked up right where he left off last year doing what he does best: providing an offensive spark with his ability to score.
Broome started off his second year by leading the Bearcats with 15 points tonight on 4-9 shooting.
But it was his understanding, at the postgame press conference, of other guys stepping into newer, larger roles like the one Broome embraced in his first season with Bearcats after transferring from Sacred Heart.
“You got to find that balance,” Broome said. “Whatever it is that makes us win that helps you get into the game of play, do that. And then the other stuff that we do is going to fall into place.
“But we got to play well to win and we can’t lose that cause we got a new role, cause we’re playing a different position, cause Tre’s starting, like we can’t forget that we got to play defense, block shots because that’s how we win.”
The Bearcats will be back in action in their 2018-19 season opener next Wednesday night against the Ohio State Buckeyes, a game that will get underway at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.