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Cheikh Mate: Mbodj draws essential confidence from win

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Junior College transfer Cheikh Mbodj enjoys his breakout game in a critical 56-47 bounce back victory against the Miami RedHawks.

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI - If Cheikh Mbodj ever needed a confidence builder, his performance in last night's win over Miami University should do the trick.

And it couldn't have come at a more opportune time for his new team.

The 6-foot-10 junior from Grayson County College scored both a season, team and career-high 12 points.

Though, it wasn't just the fact he led the team in scoring, but the manner in which he did so. With Miami pulling to within two points in the final minutes and the shot clock ticking down to zero, Mbodj found himself holding the ball inside the 3-point arc on the wing.

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Everybody in the building was thinking the same thing as Miami coach Charlie Coles.

"The kid gets it, I say, OK, shoot it," Coles said.

Mbodj did. He drained it.

The following trip down the floor Mbodj found himself in a similar spot, only standing behind the 3-point line. With no hesitation, he buried his first career 3-pointer and the Miami RedHawks at the same time.

For the first time in his now three-game UC career, the predictable chant could be heard from the 6,457 in attendance at Fifth Third Arena.

"Mboooooooooooooooodj!"

For a player expected to make the biggest impact of all UC's newcomers this season, Tuesday night was essential in his development. Mbodj missed the first three games with a high-ankle sprain and searched to find his niche. Like many of the new players, he desperately wanted to make an impact.

"I was happy Cheikh Mbodj finally showed you guys what he shows me in practice," Mick Cronin said. "It's great for Cheikh, he wants to do so well. He's just been a nervous wreck."

If that's how Mbodj plays when nervous, his performance with confidence must be quite a show.

"It means a lot because it shows that I'm here for the team and I'm trying to be a part of our success," said Mbodj. "I just got to keep listening to Yancy (Gates) and coach and my teammates."

Early on, however, it didn't seem like it would be such a positive night for Mbodj. Cronin yanked him from the game in the first half for not contributing on the boards.

"I was all over him early, he wasn't rebounding the basketball," Cronin said. "I took him out and went off on him about rebounding and he got three offensive rebounds and look what happens."

Mobdj scored eight points in the second half including the dagger 3. Although, that wasn't the first time the big man had ever drained a shot from behind the arc.

"You don't get to just shoot shots if you don't make them in practice," Gates said. "So, yeah, he makes them all the time in practice."

Having someone with Mbodj's size and ability to make perimeter shots could be a dangerous weapon. According to Cronin, it's simply a matter of knowing when to take them.

"A wide open jump shot from a good shooting big man is a bad shot early in the clock because you've got no chance to rebound it, probably," said Cronin. "But late in the clock it's a good shot because you have a guy wide open that's a good shooter. So, you see a lot of teams go to that late in the clock where they'll pick and pump it to the guy who can make the shot."

Can Mbodj be the Bearcats' go-to guy late in the shot clock?

His teammates believe so. It would definitely give them another scoring option.

"This is going to make our team better," Gates said. "To have another guy that you can go to on the block when he has a mismatch and know that you can trust him to make it, score through the foul even and step up to the free-throw line and make his shots, that's just giving our team another dimension on offense."

The junior still fights his ankle injury, but says he's close to 100 percent. Cronin believes it could follow him all season. He doesn't see the same lift displayed while recruiting him.

Mbodj's performance against Miami is evidence of two things: even fighting through an ankle injury, he can score and help his team win games.

And now he owns the confidence to continue doing both.

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