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Cronin, Kilpatrick finding what works

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Sean Kilpatrick came off the bench for 26 points in 28 minutes against Wright State. Turns out, the timing of his entry into the game was as vital as his production.

 

CINCINNATI - Sean Kilpatrick admitted it. Not that anybody needed his confirmation. No, 5 of 5 from 3-point range on the stat sheet spoke loud enough.

 

"I was feeling it," Kilpatrick said.

 

The Bearcats only managed two points through the first six minutes. Kilpatrick attacked the lane off a pass for a bucket on his first possession. Before Wright State knew what happened, Kilpatrick paced a 16-4 run on his way to 15 first-half points.

 

Yet, as the Raiders hung within seven points during the first six minutes of the second half, all Kilpatrick felt was the padded fabric of the UC bench.

 

"Put in Sean!" a fan yelled from the front row.

 

Mick Cronin thought about it, but didn't budge. The first six-minutes served as basketball rope-a-dope. Let the Raiders punch themselves out. Then drop the hammer, er, Kilpatrick.  

 

"That's the gameplan," Cronin said. "It's good to know you can get better; your team can improve when you sub and you sub to strength instead of subbing to weakness. Everybody can't do that."

 

Wright State couldn't.

 

Kilpatrick provided an encore performance, this time pacing a 17-2 run. The streak featured two Killa assists off steals and two more 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 20.

 

The Raiders never recovered from the knockout punch. Final score: Bearcats 77, Raiders 69.

 

Once UC held off a late Wright State surge to go 6-0 for the first time in the Mick Cronin era, Kilpatrick finished with 26 points, 3 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers. He played 28 minutes.

 

Kilpatrick's been feast or famine all year. From his 21-point debut to three- and two-point clunkers against FAMU and Savannah State, he's been as predictable as Cincinnati weather.

 

On Wednesday, he made it rain.

 

Despite the inconsistency in the stat sheet, Cronin knows what to expect. 

 

"I know I am going to get his best effort every game and every day in practice," Cronin said. "I will say, as bad as our practices were the past few days for different reasons, he was awesome in practice the last few days.

 

"It doesn't surprise me the game he had because the way he practiced, he was the best he's ever been yesterday. He's always ready to play."

 

Cronin said a few weeks ago he was still learning what to do with Kilpatrick. He searched for what best suited him.

 

Pitting him with high-energy defenders Justin Jackson and Larry Davis as the first off the bench at that 14-minute mark appears to be the answer.

 

It worked to perfection as they did the majority of the damage in pressing Wright State into 15 turnovers the Bearcats flipped into 26 points.

 

"With that group, that's our plan every time," Kilpatrick said. "We are the defensive group. Everyone plays D, but that's our main focus just to come in with a lot of intensity and get a lot of deflections and try not to let the other team pass the other side of the court."

 

Wright State entered the game in the top 10 in the country in turnover margin and started three senior guards. They forced guard first-team All Horizon League player Vaughn Duggins into twice as many turnovers as he's committed all year.

 

"We bring that unit in, they bring great energy to the table," Cronin said. "Larry Davis, his defense is off the charts. He and Justin and SK, what they were doing in the backcourt to Wright State's guards -- they don't turn the ball over. Those guys are seniors. (The group) changed the game with their defensive energy."

 

Kilpatrick can do that. Or so we're learning; ourselves along with Cronin, one game at a time. What we saw Wednesday was a coach putting one of his best players in the best situation to succeed. We saw a coach and player figuring it out.

 

The kid who averaged 30 points a game at Notre Dame Prep isn't exactly used to coming off the bench. In fact, he's never been asked to do it before.

 

"This is new to me, but I am happy that it's coming along the way it is," Kilpatrick said. "It really don't matter. Whatever coach put me at and whenever he puts me in at, I just go in and play as hard as I can when I am out there."

 

The thought of a promotion to the starting lineup may arise if Kilpatrick continues to put up points like the 26 he did. He may not have started Wednesday, but his 28 minutes were second-most on the team behind Yancy Gates' 33.

 

His body of work to this point may already deserve to hear his name called during introductions, but his chemistry within the scheme and undefeated record infers he's fine just where he's at.

 

"Plus, I knew once I put him in," Cronin said, "he probably wasn't coming out."

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