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The Morning After: UC 65, Alabama State 40

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Ask and you shall receive, I guess.

After an exhibition season that included Sean Kilpatrick not shooting a free throw and grabbing only three rebounds in two games, Mick Cronin saw enough. He knows for his team to be successful, they must generate rebounds and attacks from the wing position.

He went after Kilpatrick -- and others -- to us media folks following the game against NKU.

On Friday, Cronin sat down with Kilpatrick, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright to talk about crashing the boards and being more aggressive.

Obviously, it worked. Kilpatrick came out Sunday, scored 13 points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, three offensive, in the 65-40 victory against Alabama State. His previous career high was seven boards last season against UConn.

Whatever was said or done between Cronin and Kilpatrick certainly worked.

"The past three years he has known me better than anybody," Kilpatrick said of his coach. "He knows his limits with me, like, how to get me really amped up, so he pushes my buttons but I like it."

What button gets him really amped up?

"Cursing me out," Kilpatrick said.

Judging by Kilpatrick's performance, practice must have sounded like an Andrew Dice Clay routine this week.

"He's just got to realize being a basketball player is not all about shooting and scoring," Cronin said. "These guys all have hopes and dreams as players. You have nights where you make shots, you have nights where you don't. People are going to recognize you for your floor game. His floor game improved tonight. He really got in there and rebounded which is what I challenged him about."

Cronin also challenged Kilpatrick to attack the basket and draw fouls. He didn't shoot a free throw in either of the two exhibition games. SK went to the line five times Sunday and buried all five.

"I just wanted to start from the free throw line," he said.

His near double-double response should be expected. Kilpatrick answered every challenge Cronin laid out for him last season. He accepted his minutes without a peep despite being one of the top scorers per minute in the Big East, but only playing 20 a game. Kilpatrick doesn't look at the numbers, he's dedicated to pleasing Cronin and benefiting the team.

"I was just trying to do any and everything to make our team win (Sunday)," Kilpatrick said. "Coach said if I am one of the guys that does the intangibles then I can be a big factor on the season. That is all I am worried about. I could care less about anything else but winning."

UC will do plenty of it if SK keeps churning out games like Sunday.

--- Yancy Gates opened
the season with a double-double, going for 15 points and 11 rebounds. It looked like an easy one at that. UC had Alabama State outmanned on the front line and Gates was able to have his way on the interior.

What I thought was telling about the double-double and his expectations this season, was his response to a question of what a double-double means to him. Last year, I remember asking the same question and Gates would talk about how he was trying to get one every night and something he strives for. This season, it's an afterthought.

"I think it is just something I am supposed to do," he said. "If we are going to win I am going to have to get the double-figure rebounds and also score the ball at the same time."

Last year, Gates managed three double-doubles during the 12-game, non-conference schedule. (That did include the opener against Mount St. Mary's where he went for 15-10).

How many he comes up with this season should serve as an accurate barometer for improvement and effort.

---  Cronin wants the offense to be better. They were sloppy half the time in the exhibition season and that was the case Sunday. The first half UC moved the ball well, created open shots, went to the rim and rolled up 35 points. All of that came without hitting a thing from the perimeter.

UC finished the game 1 for 9 from deep.

"We got the ball moving and made the extra pass, better than we had all year," Cronin said. "We were shooting open shots. We just weren't knocking anything down."

UC turned sloppy in the second half and finished with 16 turnovers. Not good. Many of those came from young guys still learning their way. Jeremiah Davis had four turnovers -- the final forced Cronin to snap to the bench and put in Alex Eppensteiner for the first time this year, much to the delight of the UC student section.

Unfortunately, four also came from Wright. Cronin attributed it to forcing the ball inside too much. From my angle, just first game stuff that will work itself out.

--- Justin Jackson contributed another remarkable stat. He played 29 minutes without a foul. Not one. Yes, I'm serious. This is not a typo.

He went without a personal foul in a game he played at least 10 minutes three times last year. Sunday was the most minutes without a foul for his career, though.

More than that, the aggression he played with in those 29 minutes sparked UC's surge. He finished with seven rebounds, four points, three assists, three blocks and three steals with one turnover.

"The guy gets four points, but he's a winning catalyst to the game," Cronin said. "You got to focus on being a complete player and he did a great job on his defense tonight."

Jackson broke on the scene last year to be an instant fan favorite because of his energy and passion on the court. As he continues to add offense and affect games with more minutes, the love affair looks on the verge of blossoming this year.

There was a scary moment, though. Cronin said he thought Jackson tore his Achilles on Friday in practice. Turns out it was just strained, but when Jackson started to tighten up in the second half Sunday, Cronin told him to put ice on it and shut him down.

--- Speaking of injuries, Cronin included a few injury updates.

JaQuon Parker didn't have a pulled groin, there was actually a slight tear. The doctors analysis was 2-6 weeks. Tuesday will be two weeks from the injury, so he could be out as long as another month, judging by the initial analysis.

Better news with Cheikh Mbodj. He's now doing light drills on the side and Cronin sees him making progress with his sprained ankle.

"He does look much better," Cronin said. "He's really close."

As well as Gates and Jackson played on the interior without the 6-10, 245-pound center, it will be interesting to see the effect when Mbodj joins them.

--- Octavius Ellis contributed six points, two boards and two blocks during eight minutes of play in the second half.

That included a new nickname courtesy new FSO analyst Terry Nelson. When Ellis dropped in a dunk on the fast break, Nelson exclaimed, "The Octopus!"

I fully support this.

Ellis may be the skinniest player Cronin has ever recruited. Because of his size, it seemed he'd be a perfect candidate for a redshirt.Apparently not, but it wasn't a snap decision.

"I thought about it," Cronin said. "The problem being is, I was concerned about his development. If he doesn't get to play it is hard for him to develop if he doesn't get to play. There really is nothing like experience. He is such a fighter, I see how much he has improved in the first three weeks. I am saying to myself, if he continues to improve he is going to be able to help us because of his size and this athleticism. Plus coach (Larry) Davis always tells me, if a guy can help you win one game..."

--- Quote of the night: The bottom line on Ellis is he's as raw as he is skinny. How raw?

"Literally, he had to ask what a pivot foot is," Cronin said.

--- Stat of the night: UC blocked 10 shots. The most blocks they had in any game since alsoo recording 10 against Western Illinois on Nov. 22, 2008. The most they had in any game last year was seven.

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