Point guard Cashmere Wright had never made a buzzer-beater to win a game. Coach Mick Cronin had never seen one of his teams pull one off at the end.
No surprise, then, that both were a little stunned when the ball went in.
Wright’s fadeaway jumper at the buzzer gave No. 17 Cincinnati a 58-56 victory over Alabama on Saturday in a matchup of stingy unbeaten teams. In the final seconds, Cincinnati was a bit better on defense.
And the struggling Wright made the shot that decided it.
Trevor Releford had a chance to give Alabama the lead, but Justin Jackson swatted away his driving jump shot. Cincinnati (7-0) got the rebound and called timeout with 6 seconds left.
Wright took the inbound pass at midcourt, drove to the left side of the basket and hit his fadeaway 12-footer over the outstretched arm of 7-foot center Moussa Gueye. Wright fell on his back after releasing the ball and didn’t see it go through the hoop. He knew he’d won the game when teammates rushed at him.
Ever do that before?
”Never,” Wright said. ”It was the least I could do. I basically was throwing away the whole game at the end. I felt if they could take me that far, I could make the shot.”
Wright was only 3 of 8 from the field with four turnovers when Cronin drew up the final play, putting the game in his hands. If Wright saw leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick open, he was supposed to pass to him. If not, take the shot.
When the ball left the guard’s hands, all Cronin could think about was the many times he’d lost a game on a buzzer-beater.
”That was the first time,” Cronin said. ”In 17 years of college coaching, five of high school, I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a game-winner at the buzzer. One of those has to fall at some point for the Bearcats.”
JaQuon Parker and Kilpatrick had 13 apiece for Cincinnati. Trevor Lacey scored 16 for Alabama (6-1).
Cincinnati opened the game with a 17-4 run, but the Crimson Tide regrouped and kept it tight throughout the second half, which featured five ties and eight lead changes. The Bearcats went more than 6 minutes without a field goal.
After the opening minutes, the game was even.
”We knew coming in that their defense was outstanding and they were going to apply pressure,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. ”We didn’t do a very good job of handling it early. I told our guys what we needed to do was just settle down, it’s going to be a 40-minute game, we’re going to have an opportunity if we took care of the basketball.”
Alabama was the next team into the Top 25 this week, getting the 26th-most points while going 6-0 for the second season in a row. The Crimson Tide spent the first half overcoming a bad start, then had it come down to Wright’s shot.
The Crimson Tide had eight turnovers during Cincinnati’s opening 17-4 run. The Crimson Tide got back into the game by dominating the boards and taking care of the ball — only eight turnovers the rest of the way.
Alabama’s 7-foot-1 center Carl Engstrom fell on the court and hurt his left knee less than 4 minutes into the game. He limped off and didn’t return. Grant said Engstrom would have tests on the knee to determine the severity of the injury.
Cincinnati’s defensive pressure quickly had an effect, setting up that early run. The Crimson Tide settled down and started playing a little pressure defense of their own during an 11-2 spurt that cut it to 21-18. Lacey’s back-to-back baskets completed the run.
Alabama kept it close in the first half by dominating the boards 20-11 against Cincinnati’s three-guard lineup. Releford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the Bearcats’ lead to 33-27 at halftime.
Releford missed the last game with a stomach virus, but was back in form on Saturday, playing 37 minutes and scoring 12 points.
The Crimson Tide didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half, while Cincinnati went 8 of 11 from the line. Gueye had a three-point play – including Alabama’s first point from the line – during an 11-4 run that opened the second half. Lacey’s pull-up jumper from the baseline gave Alabama its first lead, 38-37, with 14:16 to go.
Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way.