Bearcats heed Cronin’s words, rout Temple

Bearcats forward Octavius Ellis reacts to making a shot while being fouled during the first half against the Temple Owls. 

CINCINNATI — The trip back to Cincinnati from western Tennessee Thursday night was quiet. Understandably so. There wasn’t much to talk about after the University of Cincinnati scored just 50 points in a 13-point loss to Memphis. It was arguably the worst performance of the season for the Bearcats.

The talking increased Friday, but it wasn’t coming from the players. It came from their head coach, the guy who can’t be on the sidelines with them because of health concerns but who still sees all surrounding the program.

Mick Cronin may not be able to be with the players while games are going on or while they’re practicing but he’s still at the controls of the program. What he had to say Friday needed to be said before the Bearcats went back out on the court Saturday night against Temple.

They listened well.

UC made 11 straight field goals to open the second half and run away from a one-point game at halftime for an 84-53 win in front of a season-high attendance of 12,071 at Fifth Third Arena. It was the most points the Bearcats have scored in a game this season. They made 20 of 26 field goal attempts in the second half (76.9 percent) in route to scoring 55 points in the final 20 minutes, a total they’ve failed to reach five times in regulation this season and once needed double overtime to reach.

But this game, this win, wasn’t about the offense. It was all about the defense, and following what Cronin had to say the night before.

"It was basically like that father-son talk that you have with your dad that you hate to hear but you’ve got to hear it," said sophomore guard Kevin Johnson, who scored a career-high 14 points and made a career-high four 3-pointers. "It’s just real. It’s just real, and it made us realize what we need to do, how we need to play, how we need to fend for each other, what a team really is (and) how we’ve got to love each other. It’s just stuff that we sometimes shy away from being college basketball players."

The Bearcats are now 12-5 overall and 3-2 in the American Athletic Conference. Saturday’s win snaps a two-game losing streak, losses that came on the road at defending national champion UConn and at Memphis. Taken at face value, there is no disgrace in losing to either program on the road. Look a little deeper and you’ll see that UC lost a game at UConn in which is led at halftime and followed that up with a forgettable night in Memphis.

The 50 points they scored was the second-fewest single-game total of the season, bettering only the 47 points they scored in their lone home loss of the season against VCU. That 68-47 defeat came on the same day Cronin told the players he would indefinitely be away from them because of what turned out to be an arterial dissection. The condition means Cronin won’t be coaching from the sidelines this season.

2014 REDS A TO Z

Cronin is watching, however. He’s watching games on TV. He’s going over the games from a different perspective, capable of seeing more through the multiple camera angles than he would from his normal courtside post. When the players hear Cronin’s thoughts for the first time, it’s not in the heat of battle.

"You get a little emotional as a coach, we all do," said associate head coach Larry Davis, who is running the team on a daily basis in Cronin’s absence. "When you can take a step away from it and take just from an analytical standpoint then you’ve got a great perspective on it. It’s a different perspective than when you’re in the middle of it."

The Bearcats led 29-28 at halftime. They had made just one of 13 shot attempts during one stretch of the half while Temple made 10 of its final 15 field goals after missing its first six shots of the game. UC took 19 shots inside the paint in the first half but made just five of them. That all changed in the second half. Octavius started with a dunk off an assist from Gary Clark. Troy Caupain hit a wing jumper. Clark made two free throws, then a layup, followed by a 3-pointer by Caupain. Johnson hit a trey, which Farad Cobb and Jermaine Sanders also did as UC’s advantage to reached 58-38 before a missed a 3-pointer by Sanders was the first Bearcats’ shot to go awry with 10:20 left to play.

Talk at halftime wasn’t about offense, however.

"We just talked about how we had to defend better," said Sanders, a senior who made just his second start of the season and responded with a career-high 16 points. "We made little mistakes on defense in the first half but we adjusted in the second half and made plays on the defensive end. That’s what got our offense started."

UC forced eight of Temple’s 13 turnovers in the second half. After committing 35 turnovers in their last two games, including a season-high 20 turnovers at Memphis, the Bearcats equaled their season-low with just eight turnovers Saturday to go along with a season-high 19 assists on their 29 made baskets. Caupain had seven assists without a turnover.

"Honestly, shots just went into the basket for us," said Johnson. "Our offensive flow was real good tonight. Our intensity was good. It seems when we focus and put all of our energy into the defense and playing how the Bearcats normally play the offense tends to flow our way. We did nothing different, just focused on our main goals of the game."

Just like their coach told them to do.