In a big night for Cincinnati athletics, the New Mexico Lobos entered 5/3 Arena to take on the No. 8 Bearcats in front of 10,627 fans. The Steve Alford led Lobos arrive in Cincinnati just on the cusp of the top 25 after losing to the surprisingly deadly South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
It took just over three minutes, but the first basket came on the usual Sean Kilpatrick three pointer. From there, Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick proceeded to score the first 12 Bearcats’ points, all from three point range.
For a while it looked like the Bearcats might start to pull away, but the run ended as Cashmere Wright picked up his second foul early & sat the final 11 minutes of the half.
New Mexico’s big man Alex Kirk (7’, 280) was perfect from the field and lead New Mexico with 6 points at half.
Cincinnati took a 26-22 lead into the half, despite shooting 25% from the field. The awful field goal shooting can be attributed to a lot of missed shots down low. Cincinnati was 5-26 (19%) from 2pt range, while hitting just as many threes in only 13 attempts. Kilpatrick lead the team with 8 points at half, while Parker and Wright also added 6.
The second half was full of remarkable effort and hustle from both teams, a la the Cincinnati vs. Florida State game in March. Every time it looked like Cincinnati might pull away with a big three, New Mexico responded with a huge basket. Kendall Williams kept silencing the crowd with four threes and 16 points.
Not only did the Lobos have to respond to the loud crowd from huge Cincinnati shots, but also an occasional eruption when the Belk Bowl score came up on the jumbo-tron. Nothing seemed to phase New Mexico as they were never down by more four in the second half.
Alex Kirk’s huge first half continued into the second half where he finished with 15 points on 6-8 shooting and 7 rebounds. The seven footer played 29 minutes and only committed one foul while playing his heart out on both ends of the floor. Mick Cronin said, “Their physicality bothered us”, and that would definitely seem true as Cincinnati only shot 9-38 from 2 point range and shot only four free throws all game.
Seeing a big man like Kirk could end up preparing the Bearcats well for Big East play, Sean Kilpatrick said, “That’s just something we’re not used to, rotating to the big man.”
Cincinnati had many chances to pull away and get the crowd even more into it, but couldn’t come up with clutch defensive stops and had key turnovers on the break leading to the 55-54 loss. Alex Kirk blocked Sean Kilpatrick’s last second attempt to go in, and Cheikh Mbodj’s put-back was just a split second too late.
There was a wide array of issues displayed by the Bearcats tonight, and one of the biggest was the combined 10-36 shooting of Jaquon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick. Despite shooting great from 3, the duo had huge issues finishing inside the arc.
Cronin said after the game, “Our inside finishing is beyond soft.”, which is verified by only having nine 2 point field goals to eleven 3 point field goals. Cashmere Wright only played 27 minutes because of early foul trouble, but had an efficient 12 points on 4-6 shooting.
Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles were basically non-factors, as they combined for 1-12 from the field and never really got into a groove. Redshirt freshman Shaquille Thomas gave the Bearcats a solid 18 minutes off the bench, surprisingly playing more than Rubles in a big game and scoring 5 points with 2 steals.
“Things have been too easy for us, we were going to get taught our lesson sooner or later,” said Coach Cronin after the game.
Cincinnati fans can rest easy that Coach will have them ready on Monday, and should be happy with a 12-1 non-conference schedule that won’t have any “bad losses” show up on that screen on Selection Sunday.
Cincinnati has a great chance to redeem themselves at noon on Monday 12/31, vs. the Panthers of Pittsburgh. Both teams are 12-1 and Pittsburgh has been off since the 23rd.