The team and coach reaction from last night's victory against Mount St. Mary's was disappointment. As it should have been. One half of good basketball won't cut it. But UC came away with the win. Granted, it ended up being closer than it should have been, but a win nonetheless and one where the team was very impressive during the first half.
Yet, disappointment was the undeniable theme in postgame.
Not concern, disappointment.
The Bearcats know they can play better, especially Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon, who never could get it going on Monday. They will, but it didn't happen.
There will be plenty more opportuntities to knock around inferior opponents -- about a month and a half worth. So, any disappointment from the first game can be worked out soon enough.
What happened in the second half needed to be addressed and deserved to be talked about -- in fact I did it in last night's column about the developing offense -- but there were a lot of positive that occured in the first half to be encouraged about. Let's start there.
--- UC forced 16 MSM turnovers in the first half. The press really rattled them. And freshman Justin Jackson provided a lot of the disruptive energy. He played 26 minutes,despite not managing a bucket. (I thnk this photo from Gary Landers at the Enquirer says it all)
"He may have affected a game as much as you can without scoring a point," Cronin said.
Without doubt, he had four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and three steals. Oh, and no turnovers. We will all be talking about Sean Kilpatrick's debut, but Jackson's wasn't half bad, either.
--- So, let's talk about Kilpatrick. He didn't enter until the 11:28 mark of the first half When he came in the score was 16-11, UC. What began with a lucky bounce on a 3-pointer off the top of the backboard concluded in a run of 13 points and his smooth assist for a dunk to Yancy Gates posting the score at 40-19.
"My role on the team is come in and do what I do and do what coach asked me to do," Kilpatrick said. "Just come in and do whatever coach asked me to do."
Monday he scored 21 points in 21 minutes with three rebounds and two steals.
What he does will change regularly because Kilpatrick can do so many things. But if Kilpatrick can provide the offensive spark off the bench, he will be an invaluable weapon for this team.
Cronin needs to learn how best to use Kilpatrick as well. Sure, he's seen him in practice for a year, but understanding how he works best in game situations make take a little bit more time.
"The sooner we can develop him into a consistent scorer, the better he's going to be," Cronin said. "I'm still learning a little bit too what he's best at as far as getting him the ball in certain places. I have said this from Day 1, if he gets it going from outside, he is going to get 20."
Judging by what Cronin sees in practice, it will only be a matter of time.
"I would love for him to average 21 a game," Cronin said. "I see him every day, Sean's an interesting guy. He loves basketball so much. I don't ever have to motivate him. I have to stop him from getting down on himself. I just explained to him (the media) are all going to want to talk about his debut, his freshman debut. I don't know where he ranks in Bearcat freshman debuts. I reminded him he didn't have a basket in the last game. Basketball is his life, he lives in the gym, he's got a great attitude."
--- For the record, the best freshman debut was by Dontonio Wingfield in 1993, when he posted 30 points and 12 boards against Butler.
--- Nobody loves talking about free throws more than fans, so I will humor you.
There are few things more frustrating than missed free throws. Free points! And the Bearcats need to be better. Until the final minutes they were knocking down around 50 percent.
Cashmere Wright only made 1 of 6. In fact, an hour after the game in a near empty gym, Wright was out there shooting free throws.
But I actually walk away encouraged by the free shooting. When was free throw shooting really a problem for UC last year (outside of always)? The biggest problem was missing free throws when trying to close out games. Missing free throws when it counted. Missing free throws when teams were one shot away from being buried.
It probably was the difference between NIT and NCAA.
What happened on Monday? For all the missed free throws through the first 35 minutes, UC knocked down 12 of 13 down the stretch to secure the win. How many times did we say that last year?
Who knows if it will continue. Maybe it was just a fluke that the ball started dropping late in the game. But maturity plays a role in the ability to hit FT shots like that when it really matters. To me, the final five minutes means much more than the first 35.
--- Dion Dixon struggled. He's played so well all through the exhibition season, but didn't have it Monday. He finished 1 of 6 from the field with 6 points and 3 rebounds in 33 minutes.
Even worse, he had no assists and three turnovers.
He's a better player than that and he will play better -- hopefully bouncing back Saturday against IPFW.
Cronin said the key will be keeping Dixon's spirits up. He was especially depressed following the game.
"Right now he looks like somebody stole his dog," Cronin said. "You got to learn how to grind as a college player."