UC-St. John's thoughts

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Well, that wasn't good.


So, there's much that we could discuss from this game - from the 21 turnovers to the 12 missed 3-pointers,* from Lance Stephenson's second-straight game with six turnovers in front of his hometown fans to another defeat against one of the Big East's so-called light weights. Or you could talk about the positives - from the impressive defensive performance to the solid play of senior forward Steve Toyloy.


*<i>You know the last time UC didn't make a 3-pointer? The Memphis game from March 2002. In March 2002, I had just started my job at the Augusta Chronicle. I was 23 years old. I wasn't yet married. I didn't even have a 401 (k) that I would lose half of seven years later. I wasn't even a shoe maven yet. It seems like a long time ago. </i>


But let's not talk about that. Let's talk about the final 1:30 of the game, because that is where the Bearcats lost this one. That's where UC lost a chance to move back into the upper half of the conference and where the Bearcats hurt their NCAA tournament chances.


OK, back to the videotape.


A Yancy Gates layup gave the Bearcats a 50-47 lead with 1:29 to play, and from there, UC had a number of chances to close out the game and improve to 3-2 in conference play. That's what the Bearcats should have done. Instead, this ...


-After a timeout with 1:13 left, Vaughn played good defense, tying up Sean Evans as he took a handoff from a teammate with 53 seconds to play. St. John's had the possession arrow and retained possession of the ball, and with the shot clock winding down. D.J. Kennedy lofted a prayer that had no chance of finding the basket. St. John's turnover, and UC edges ever closer to the victory.


Except it didn't.


-With 24 seconds remaining, Mick Cronin takes a timeout, and on the inbounds play, junior guard Rashad Bishop was supposed to find freshman guard Lance Stephenson, who was coming off a double screen and was open. Instead, Bishop passed to Gates, who was trapped on the sideline and threw it back to Bishop - who was then stripped from behind by a Red Storm defender. The ball somehow rebounded to sophomore guard Dion Dixon, whose shot was blocked by Paris Horne.


"That's a crucial play right there," Cronin said on his postgame radio show. "If we get Lance the ball, the game is over."


Except it wasn't.


-After Dixon's shot was blocked, he impeded Justin Brownlee as he drove to the hoop. A foul called, and I don't think it was a bad one by Dixon. Especially after Brownlee missed the first free throw and made only the second.


-On the inbound: Bishop was supposed to be looking for senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who was going to use a screen near mid-court and come back for the ball. The idea was for St. John's to foul him. Except Vaughn never used the screen, and Bishop - who Cronin said is the best inbounder on the team - threw a deep pass to Vaughn into double coverage. St. John's intercepted it, and Bishop fouled Dwight Hardy. He made both free throws to tie the game.


"That play is not in our repertoire," Cronin said. "It was not called. We don't run that play. Young people at times get rattled because of the turnover and do interesting things. We never should have went long in that situation and compounded it by throwing it. Deonta is supposed to come back. If not, give it to Dion Dixon on the flash. He hasn't missed a free throw in a month and the game is over."


Except it wasn't.


--With the score tied at 50-50 with nine seconds to play, Bishop Stephenson tries to hit Dixon on the inbounds. Except Hardy cuts in front of Dixon, steals the ball and takes the foul from Dixon. Then, with seven seconds to go, he hits the game-winning free throws.


"Knowing they were going to press, we don't flash strong to the ball," Cronin said. "If we flash strong to the ball there, we're going to get a foul on them. Instead, we let them physically cut in front of us and foul the guy. Young people do wild things. That's why coaching is a rough way to make a living. It boggles my mind."


UC should have beaten St. John's, should have walked out of Madison Square Garden with a hard-fought victory. Except it didn't.

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