The Cincinnati Bearcats pulled off a heart racing 72-70 victory over the Georgetown Hoyas in double overtime to advance to the Big East Tournament semi finals on Friday night.
After looking flat for most of the first 30 minutes, the Bearcats found themselves trailing 47-38 with 9:11 remaining in the game.
Cincinnati was struggling from the floor, and especially the three point line where they finished 2-21 for 9.5% for the game.
With the perimeter game not working, the Bearcats started creating points off turnovers and most importantly feeding the ball to Yancy Gates in the post when they needed buckets in the half court.
Gates played maybe the best game of his four year Cincinnati career finishing with 23 points on 10-19 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 critical steals.
"You don't want to play in one game and go home,” Gates said after the win. “This is my last Big East Tournament at the Garden"
That sense of urgency was necessary as Gates found himself in a battle with Georgetown senior center Henry Sims who finished with 22 points and a career high 15 boards.
The two traded blows late in regulation and through both overtime periods trying to keep their Big East Title hopes alive.
“We both was called upon to get tough baskets down the stretch for our teams,” said Gates. “It was just a good, tough battle between two seniors trying to fight and stay in New York for a day longer.”
For Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, it was like watching his own child have a career performance as Gates demanded the ball on the block and willed the team to victory. After all the two have been through to this point, it is a feeling that is completely understandable.
“It's like a proud parent,” Cronin said. “Me and his dad will talk tonight and laugh. We've been working on this guy for a long time.”
Once Gates asserted himself on the block down the stretch, everything changed for the Bearcats. No longer were they struggling to dissect the Hoyas length and athleticism, as they had an answer anchored on the block.
“For me, its two things. I'm happy for him, but also as a coach it's great when you've got a horse and you know you can get him the ball and he's delivering,” said Cronin. “You've got options. When you've got a guy like him doing that our offense changed once he started finished and we started getting him the ball.”
While Gates did the heavy lifting, it was junior point guard Cashmere Wright that delivered the final blow. With the score tied in the 2nd OT, Wright was forced left with time winding down. He took what the defense gave him as they focused on Gates and banked in a lay up to provide the final margin.
“It was all set up by Yancy,” Wright said. “They was respecting him so much, like, when he ducked in it seemed like the whole team sucked in to him. The hole opened up wide open, and I took it upon myself to try to win the game for my team.”
The big difference for Cincinnati in the final 10 minutes was finally using their pressure to create Hoya turnovers and get them out of their offensive rhythm as much as possible.
Cronin took the blame for not going that route earlier as he game planned to try and slow down the frequent cuts to the rim that allowed Georgetown to shoot 59% from the floor the first time these teams met in the regular season.
Our game plan was to try and change defenses. They're so proficient on the offensive end what you try to do is pick the shots they're going to get. They're going to get shots because they're such a good passing team. You try to keep them off balance as much as possible.
“I think the 1st half was more my fault,” said Cronin. “In the pregame I was talking too much about getting back-doored. We didn't have enough pressure on the ball and consequently we were flat. That was my fault in the game preparation.”
While the Hoyas weren't torching the nets like they did earlier in the season, they were still methodically running their offense and getting good looks.
Once Cronin turned them loose, the defense that forced only 2 turnovers in the 1st half and produced 0 points off the miscues got it going. The 12 Georgetown turnovers in the 2nd half got them out of their flow and changed the game as Cincinnati finished strong.
“I was trying to get the guys going in the 2nd half as much as possible and to tell them don't even worry about fouling,” Cronin said. “We've got to get up there and get some deflections. If we don't turn them over, we're not going to win the game. The guys did a great job of that.”
The late surge was reminiscent of the Cincinnati victory in Washington DC on January 9th as the Bearcats erased a 6 point deficit in the final 6:31 to pull it out 68-64.
It was something Cronin reminded the team of as they chipped away at the lead, and once again came out victorious.
“That was one of the first things he mentioned coming down the stretch,” said Gates. “That we were about to do that in their gym. To be in the Garden at a neutral site it was possible to do it again. That gave us the confidence and energy to go out there and make it happen.”
With the victory Cincinnati advances to take on #1 seed Syracuse in the tournament semi finals on Friday night at 7 om.