Second half surges great but Davis wants more from UC

Deshaun Morman and Cincinnati had a slow start Wednesday night.

Aaron Doster/Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

 

CINCINNATI — Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising given how inexperienced the University of Cincinnati basketball team is but when the Bearcats came out for warmups Wednesday night there was something missing. The players knew it. The coaching staff knew it.

Associate head coach Larry Davis tried to do something about what he had sensed but this was just one of those situations the Bearcats had to play through. Their opponent, Houston, was winless in six previous American Athletic Conference games and the Bearcats obviously knew the Cougars’ record.

UC had a big offensive output in the second half for the second straight game as it pulled away for a 67-54 win at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats shot 61.9 percent and scored 43 points after halftime but this isn’t a habit Davis wants the team to fall into.

He’ll take the victory, which improves the Bearcats to 13-5 overall and 4-2 in the conference, but Davis wasn’t pleased.

"We as a staff didn’t feel they were quite ready to play tonight, and we addressed it," said Davis of his pre-game message to the team. "They’re young and inexperienced and part of being young and inexperienced is they watch on TV, they watch the scores and see that these guys in league play are oh-fer. It’s natural for them not to be quite ready to play."

UC has just two upperclassmen — senior Jermaine Sanders and junior Shaq Thomas — with appreciable playing experience at the Division I level prior to this season. While last season’s squad had three seniors in Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles who knew the ropes, this season’s team is dealing with some rope burns.

Wednesday night they got away with it.

"When you’ve got an older, veteran team, they just want to smash everybody and they realize that you’ve got to play in these games," said Davis. "We’ve got to keep growing up."

UC scored 55 points and made 20 of its 26 field goals in the second half against Temple last Saturday, including 11 in a row to start the second 20 minutes, as it cruised to an 84-53 win. Temple came into that game with a much better resume than Houston, however, including a win against nationally-ranked Kansas.

Houston (7-11, 0-7) has no such resume. The Cougars have some legitimate players in their starting lineup; junior guard Jherrod Stiggers is third in the AAC in scoring at 15.5 points per game, while sophomore forward Danrad Knowles was coming off a 31-point game in a 3-point loss to Tulane last Saturday.

The Cougars hadn’t led at halftime of any of their previous conference games this season but that changed Wednesday when they took a 28-24 lead into the locker room. UC had forced 10 turnovers but committed eight itself and made just nine of the 22 field goals (40.9 percent) it took in the first half.

The Bearcats weren’t quite as hot to start the second half Wednesday as they were against Temple but still made seven of their first nine shots to grab control of the game, 43-34, with 13:58 left in regulation. Houston’s lack of depth played into UC’s favor as the Bearcats built as much as a 19-point lead with just over one minute left to play.

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain led UC with 13 points and six assists. Seven UC players scored at least five points, with junior forward Octavius Ellis (11 points) and Thomas (10 points) also scoring in double figures. The Bearcats committed just three turnovers in the second half and had 16 assists on their 22 made field goals.

UC had 35 turnovers in two road losses at UConn and Memphis prior to this two-game win streak. The Bearcats have had 35 assists in the last two wins.

"We came into the game during warmups a little down. The coaches kept saying we had to make our own energy," said Caupain. "There really isn’t a reason. It’s just kind of how the game went in the first half. I can’t really tell you. Not everyone was on the same page in the first half. We thought it was going to be a lay down game and it wasn’t and it showed in the first half. But we tightened up in the second."

Caupain has had 13 assists and just three turnovers in the last two games and has a solid 1.8 assist/turnover ratio for the season.

"It was rough during those two road games. We turned the ball over (35) times in those two games and it was a big problem," said Caupain. "Our motto at practice is ‘no turnovers’. Don’t have any turnovers and it’s showing that when you work the ball and execute we can do a lot. We can score inside and out."

Now the Bearcats just have to figure out how to do it without waiting until the second half.

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