On Wednesday night, Fifth Third Arena looked and sounded like it did in its heyday. After Mick Cronin asked fans to support his team earlier in the week, over 10,000 came to the Shoemaker Center to answer the call, and it seemed to make a difference. The overwhelming majority of fans stood for the final two minutes of the game and cheered the Bearcats to their second BIG EAST win this season, a 74-66 win over Jin Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange.
The night got off to a rough start for the Bearcats as they struggled to find their shooting touch. The Orange built a nine point lead with 11:32 left in the half, but that lead was short lived as Cincinnati went on a 25-9 run with Deonta Vaughn scoring 15 of his 20 first half points to literally shoot the Bearcats into a 35-23 halftime lead.
The Bearcats stretched that lead in the second half to 49-35 with 10:12 left in the contest, but Syracuse rallied in the closing minute cutting the lead to just six points. But this was a night when the ‘Cats were not to be denied. Marcus Sikes stole a Syracuse pass in the closing seconds and went down the floor for a dunk to seal the victory.
The Orange were forced to foul down the stretch, but five different Bearcats stepped to the line hitting pressure foul shots to keep the UC lead in the eight point range. Until Jamual Warren missed both his charity tosses with 19.7 seconds left in the game, the Bearcats had converted on 11 of 12 tries late in the half.
After the game, Deonta Vaughn, who led UC in scoring with 29 points, was understandably excited about the win. “What got me going was just me. They left me open a couple times, and I had to knock down open shots. I need to do those types of things for our team. Most people just don’t leave me open.”
Marvin Gentry chipped in with 12 points for the Bearcats while John Williamson added 10. Biggie McClain tied fellow freshman Rashad Bishop for the team lead with 7 rebounds each. McClain played 23 minutes on a chronically sore foot and vowed the foot problem won’t keep him out of future games this season. “I’m playing through it. I’ll make it through the season.”
Syracuse was led by freshman sensation Donte’ Greene’s double/double of 25 points and 12 rebounds. Paul Harris scored an addition 20 points for the Orange.
Coach Cronin was pleased with his team’s defensive effort and credited his point guard with another fine game. “Overall a tremendous effort by our team on the defensive end especially. Jamual Warren does a great job defensively tonight on Jonny Flynn and gives us 6 rebounds and 7 assists.” Flynn, who averages 14.5 points a game, was held to 9 points on 2 of 15 shooting from the floor.
With the win Cincinnati improves to 7-8 overall and 2-1 in the league while Syracuse drops to 12-4 and 2-1 in the BIG EAST.
Saturday the Bearcats get back to work, and it doesn’t get any easier as Cincinnati will host nationally ranked Villanova at 7 o’clock at Fifth Third Arena. The game will be televised on ESPNU.