CINCINNATI - When the wheels begin coming off for one of Mick Cronin's teams, the reaction usually snaps off easier than a Darnell Burton jump shot.
Hit the bench.
Sometimes one player. Other times two. Many times all five.
That didn't happen Tuesday night. In a game against Jacksonville State, who went 5-25 last year and only returned four players from that team, where UC led by 27 points early in the second half, Cronin left his starters on the floor.
Cashmere Wright played 19 of 20 minutes in the second half. Yancy Gates 18 of 20. Dion Dixon never exited.
No, this wasn't reward. This was punishment.
"This is real simple guys, we get up 27 and guys shut it down," Cronin said. "Let's go home. I decided not to let some guys go home and get some conditioning."
This run against the directional schools and city-states are supposed to be about gaining big leads then providing valuable minutes for freshmen. Not on this night. Not at this point. Not when a team commits 20 turnovers, including five apiece from the starting guards.
Not when Cronin believes his three veteran players don't care enough about being the best players they can be.
"Once they saw we were going to win that's enough for them," Cronin said. "I don't want that to be the case. I want those guys to try to be great players."
For Cronin, this goes beyond the final 10 minutes during a forgettable November Tuesday. This goes into practices, which the coach wasn't happy with this week. This goes into preparation which he thought was lacking.
The theme of handling individual prosperity, whether in a game or overall in a season, showed up Tuesday night.
In a strategically calm fashion, Cronin began the process of nipping that problem in the bud.
"In my opinion that is going to be the ultimate test for our team," Cronin said. "To be a really, really good team I got to turn Yancy, Dion and Cash, I got to get them to be every day players, every night guys. Where those guys, all the time they just want to dominate. No matter who they are playing, no matter what the score is, those guys are playing as good as they can play and they are intense at all times."
Wright and Dixon followed Cronin's attitude. Moments after soaking in a stat sheet where Wright totaled 23 points and Dixon 20, the initial reaction on the first number noticed didn't require hesitation.
"Five turnovers," Wright said, opening the postgame press conference.
Dixon immediately followed.
"Me too," he said, specifically of his four in the second half. "That's what I am looking at right now."
They are looking at a game that appeared to be an early-season laugher when Gates dribbled behind his back then drained a 3-poitner at the halftime buzzer for a 44-21 advantage. After going 6:08 without a bucket and literally sweating through the final 10 minutes, nobody was laughing.
"I think we did horrible, personally," Wright said. "We really got to watch the film, figure out what we were doing wrong and correct it. We can't keep playing like that and continue to win."
Wright now racked up nine turnovers to go against seven assists through the first two games. Far off his near 2:1 assist to turnover ratio from last season.
Cronin wouldn't attribute the sloppiness to aggression or fatigue or even his knees.
"He would tell you and I would tell you lack of intensity," Cronin said. "I have a simple message to him: There are guys on the All-Big East team that he is just as good or better than if he is healthy. He has to go to school, get his degree and live, eat, breath and sleep basketball if you are going to be a great player at this level."
The coach hasn't seen living, eating or breathing. He didn't in the second half Tuesday night. So, he let Wright and company run until they were at least breathing heavy.
Cronin didn't yell, scream or pound the table. As far as could be surmised, the paint wasn't peeled off the locker room walls.
been trying to save some of my intensity," he said. "It's a long year. Obviously,
I haven't done a good enough job. Comes a point you have got to let guys grow
up a little bit. They got to take ownership in what they are doing."