So much for worrying about a letdown.
As I wrote yesterday from Fairborn, in the first game back from one of the most stressful few days in the program's history, the Bearcats finally learned to relax
last night. It made all the difference.
Now, burying 14 3s will help just anybody kick back and put their feet up a bit, but this was different. For the first time this season, we saw a team unafraid to make a mistake offensively.
The offense wasn't filled with hesitation to take shots and unwillingness to attack even if a player is in their face. It was filled with talented, athletic guys allowing their talent and athleticism to take over.
What a breath of fresh air from a team that hadn't broken 57 since the day after Thanksgiving.
They played with a quiet confidence, focus and pride that we just haven't seen all year. Without Yancy Gates, Ge'Lawn Guy, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis, the nine remaining players came together and left it all on the floor.
Just an inspired response. And a season careening the wrong direction suddenly lifts with an air of optimism.
--- I loved hearing Wright State coach Billy Donlon talk about what he saw. He put it very well.
no doubt when you saw them when they came out, their talk and their
togetherness and their unity was terrific, throughout he game. That's a credit
to those guys to that coaching staff. Their players handled everything with a
great deal of maturity. Sometimes in adverse conditions is when you find out the
soul of a person. From an
outside perspective they have a pretty passionate and admirable soul."
Donlon went on to say "they played with a purpose."
Actually, the compliments flowed in both directions from two programs that own a ton of respect for each other. Cronin spewed admiration for Donlon and Wright State after and purposely mentioned this as a series that would continue, talking about how Raiders teams make you better because of the level of defense they play.
"Wright State was the perfect first opponent for UC to meet after four days of upheaval.
The Nutter Center was close to home. There were several UC fans in the crowd of 5,977 - I thought there'd be more people here -- and the WSU fans who did show were mostly polite and soft-mannered...same as the Raiders team.
That may not be good for WSU hoops fortunes, but it was the perfect reception for UC.
"I want to say thank you to the people here," UC coach Mick Cronin said. "I didn't see any residual baiting or heckling or anything like that. I have a lot of respect for Billy Donlon and their athletics director, Bob Grant.
"If we were coming in someplace else, yeah I'd have been worried. But Wright State isn't going to let people stand in the front row and hour before the game and heckle our guys and say crazy stuff. Some places do and we were prepared for it, but we didn't have to worry here."
--- The Bearcats were shooting 3-pointers from the jump and didn't stop until the final whistle. They finished 14 of 32 from behind the arc.
Those were the most made 3-pointers since last year against Utah State when they also made 14.
The most 3-pointers they attempted in any game last year was 30 against St. John's. UC tossed up 20 before halftime. But hey, when you're draining 45 percent, why not?
--- Sean Kilpatrick lifted his season 3-point percentage to 42 percent. The closest number to that over the course of a season came in 2006-07 when Marcus Sikes hit 45 of 106 for 42.5 percent.
Also, SK now averaging 15.1 points a game after the 20-point effort.
Cronin talked about being happy that he made the decision to drive up early to Wright State rather than a bus trip up the day of game like they would for a game at Miami.
It allowed another opportunity to unwind.
"We could spend some time together and get these guys to laugh," Cronin said.
The players knew that people would be looking at them wondering if they were going to react adversely to any stressful or physical situations. There were a few hard fouls and bad falls, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was about as clean as it gets.
The Wright State student section showed up with a slew of unoriginal signs, including one apparently scribbled on to a cardboard box with a drawing of a police car that either of my 5-year-old twin cousins would have balled up, tossed in the trash and started over.
A chant of "UC Fight Club" broke out early, but not much was said once they went down 19-4.
--- The Cats return home on Saturday for their game against Radford and Cronin said he anticipates the home fans will rally around them. I tend to think that might be true. Let's hope.
--- Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson were the only players taller than 6-foot-5 available Wednesday night, but you wouldn't know it looking at the box score.
UC crashed the offensive glass hard. They grabbed 12 of 23 misses for a 52 percent offensive rebounding rate.
Take a look at the offensive rebounding rates from the other games this season.
Alabama St. 29/9/31%
Jax St. 29/15/51%
NW St. 21/12/57%
Wright St. 23/12/52%
--- This team, without any height, was better than every game this season outside of one. They hadn't grabbed more than 38 percent of their misses since playing Northwestern State. Now, you can look at that list and point out the teams that lack UC's athleticism were ones where the offensive rebounding percentage was high, but the Raiders do go 6-8, 6-9, 6-10 across the front line.
"With the lineup that we had, everyone rebounded and was just looking for the extra pass," Kilpatrick said. "We found our shooters and we found the rebounds that obviously bounced out the rim."
The boards were pure hustle and toughness. Look no further than Justin Jackson contributing 11 points, 8 boards, 4 offensive and JaQuon Parker with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 offensive.
Parker showed Wednesday why the team missed him so much as he battled the early-season groin injury. He's the connecting piece that Rashad Bishop was -- or at least Cronin hopes he will be. His hustle and scrappy play produced a number of points. His style lends itself to playing inside or out and allowed versatility to a lineup handcuffed in that department for six games. Not to mention he nearly totaled the number of 3-pointers he made all of last season (3 of 20) on one night (2 of 3).
"We love Park," Kilpatrick said. "He's one of the glue guys that do everything. You tell him to dive on the floor, he'll dive on the floor. You tell him to guard a 7-foot center, that is what he'll do. His heart is bigger than a lot of people's."
--- Look no further at UC playing loose, free and without fear of mistake than the play of freshman Jermaine Sanders. He opened the season 0 for 3 from 3-point range and a relative non-factor offensively.
He slashed his way to the bucket, created and hit shots against Wright State. In fact, he nailed all three 3-pointers. Sanders was the poster child for an offense playing nervous the first eight games. He looked like a different guy with the team's new attitude.
--- Also, much respect for
Kenny Frease, who reached out to Yancy Gates
to let him know he never mentioned pressing charges and those rumors weren't coming from him. Both sides exchanged apologies in hopes of everyone moving on. Great to see.
--- Stat of the night: UC had 15 assists to 12 turnovers. That was only the second time this season they have been positive in that category. They had 13 and 9 in the OT loss to Marshall. Even in the 73-point outburst against Jacksonville State they turned the ball over 20 times.
--- Quote of the night: I placed this in my column from last night's game, but really can't stress enough what Cashmere Wright has turned into the last few days according to Mick Cronin:
"He took ownership of the team from the moment this happened. As proud as I've ever been of him since he's been at Cincinnati."