Cincinnati – It was simply a solid way to open the season as the Bearcats scored the first eight points of the game en route to the 65-40 victory Sunday over Alabama State at Fifth Third Arena in front of 4,624.
Four players reached double-figures, led by Yancy Gates’ 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting. Dion Dixon added 14, while Sean Kilpatrick recorded 13 and Cashmere Wright 10. The ‘Cats were efficient on the offensive end, shooting 45.3 percent (24-of-53).
“I think we played as well as we could in the first half,” said head coach Mick Cronin. “Justin (Jackson) really got us going with some blocked shots and steals. We got the ball moving and made extra passes. One problem is we were 1-of-9 from the three. We were taking open shots, but we couldn’t make them.
“In the second half we weren’t as sharp. We had 10 turnovers, which I addressed in the locker room. Kids were forcing it a little too much inside. Our defense was excellence. I was really happy with Sean Kilpatrick. We had a long talk about not relying on shooting and he has to be a basketball player. He really took it to heart after the NKU game. He almost had a double-double.”
As has been par for the course in recent years, the Bearcats were solid on defense, holding Alabama State to just 29 percent shooting, including a paltry 14.3 percent from behind the arc. The 14 points the Hornets scored in the first half, was the lowest by any opponent in the Mick Cronin era.
The only possible concern for the ‘Cats was the inability to make outside shots with any consistency. They were only 1-of-9 in the first half, most of which were wide open looks. They started the second half with two consecutive conversions, but finished the game 3-of-16 (18.8 percent). Wright made two with Dixon having the other make.
Cincinnati (1-0) returns to Fifth Third Arena 7 p.m. Tuesday as the Bearcats host Jacksonville State.
SLOW START: We know its only one real contest, but Sunday’s game marked the third time this season Cincinnati has played on the Fifth Third Arena court, and Sean Kilpatrick hasn’t put his shooting prowess on display. In those three games, he has yet to hit on a three-pointer.
However, other parts of his game were in midseason form. He pulled down a career-high nine rebounds. His previous rebound high was seven against Connecticut on February 24.
DOC OCT: Freshman Octavious Ellis was one of the bright spots off the bench for the Bearcats. His 11 minutes were the second-most by any UC player off the bench. He hit both of his field goals and both free throws for six points, while adding two blocks and a steal.
“Since Cheikh went done, it’s given him more opportunity in practice,” said Cronin. “He’s had to battle in practice. He’s a guy that is raw in regards to having a lack of fundamentals from a coaching standpoint. He’ll admit it right away. Literally, he had to ask what a pivot foot is. That is what you are dealing with. He is a tough kid and highly competitive. That is how I discovered him. I didn’t discover Octavius Ellis by scoring 20 points. I saw a skinny 6-9 kid who wouldn’t give up and his team was being blown out the opponent. Strength wise he has a ways to go. He’ll never be a bulky guy but he plays tougher than he looks.”