Sean Kilpatrick's 36 points and game-winner willed a 71-69 victory against No. 25 Marquette in overtime and proved that no matter how difficult the situation this team can compete with anybody as long as No. 23 laces them up.
CINCINNATI -- Without Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick needed to take over the scoring responsibility for the Bearcats on Saturday.
Mick Cronin knew it. The UC players knew it. The 12,812 donned in red inside Fifth Third Arena knew it. And undeniably, Buzz Williams knew it.
With every breathing human inside the 513 area code aware stopping SK would be the key to a Golden Eagles victory, Kilpatrick still tossed the Bearcats on his back and handed No. 25 Marquette their first Big East loss.
He did so posting a career-high 36 points and his signature game as a Bearcat.
In college basketball, the teams who own players capable of taking over any game separate the good from great, great from elite. Because Sean Kilpatrick wears red and black, the Bearcats always have a chance.
Exhibit A: Cincinnati 71, Marquette 69.
Of course, Cronin didn't need to sit down and discuss an expanded scoring role with Kilpatrick before the game. It'd be the equivalent of discussing the need to boo refs with the student section.
"I don't ever have to say that to him," Cronin said with a laugh and smile. "You kidding me? Oh, man."
Firing seven 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes he only connected on one. Periodically, a Kilpatrick shot would carom off the backboard as if made of Flubber. Living the old adage that great shooters shoot their way out of it, Kilpatrick never stopped. His offensive method resembles that of his theory in life: head down, outwork everyone, stick to the plan.
Saturday, it led to 36 points and acrobatic, left-handed game-winner.
"Great scorers and great shooters don't stop shooting," Kilpatrick said at the interview table after going 5 of 14 from 3-point range and 11 of 23 from the field. "That's something I have carried on since I was a freshman here. I will never stop shooting because I know that coach and my teammates got that type of confidence in me. If that's something that's going to help us win and pull us over the top then that's what I'm going to do."
Even before his final syllables echoed off the back walls of the interview room, Titus Rubles sitting next to him snapped forward and interjected his analysis.
"He better not stop shooting," Rubles said.
Although, despite burying deep 3-pointers and scoring seven of UC's eight points in the decisive overtime period, his willing UC to victory cut deeper than any bucket --- even the game-winner.
This became as much about intangibles and poise as passes and shots.
When Williams decided to place a suffocating faceguard tactic on Kilpatrick during the majority of the second half and into overtime, Cronin struggled to find ways to free his top scorer to even touch the ball on most possessions. Instead of forcing the issue, Kilpatrick willingly stood to the side and allowed the four-on-four advantage to shift to his teammates.
Many players would grow frustrated or mentally unravel. Not here.
"I'm kind of happy because we have four other scorers," Kilpatrick said. "These guys are just like me, I just play a little bit more minutes than them. I know that if they got the opportunity and the ball in their hands they are going to score."
That's always the case with Kilpatrick. He drew contact, hit 9-of-10 free throws, drove the lane, played defense. When it appeared he couldn't make any more winning plays, one that didn't register on the stat sheet proved to be the biggest of the night. Somehow he chased down what assured to be a critical Rubles turnover by darting unscripted across the court, tiptoeing the sideline with a balancing act that was half-gymnast, half-amazing. It sucked valuable seconds off the clock and extended the late lead to three.
Those intangibles are instinctual and the types of plays elite players find a way to make.
"I looked at Ge'Lawn (Guyn) like, 'he's a little too short to catch this so let me at least run and try to save it at least,'" he said. "I was just happy I didn't step on that line. If I would have I would have had to hear it from the little guy."
He won't hear much from Cronin, except maybe a hard time about the postgame description. There's not much else to say about what Kilpatrick brings to this team. He's endured struggles of late and even a questioning from fans and media alike as to where the SK tabbed first-team All-Big East preseason disappeared to.
He reminded everyone Saturday he never left. No matter how intently a team face guards or strategizes on slowing him down, what occurred against Marquette is always a possibility. And talk as much as you want about a supporting cast still in need of more contribution, a team with inconsistencies on the interior or even how injuries can hinder their journey into March.
They have Sean Kilpatrick. Nobody else does. That always gives them a shot. Just ask Marquette.
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