It's a little after noon on Monday as I write this. There is still a smile on my face 12 hours after the Bearcats sealed a 62-56 victory over Florida State to advance to the Sweet 16. They are advancing to the Sweet 16. And not just any old Sweet 16 matchup. They are playing the team that won't schedule them. They are playing Ohio State. After getting teased multiple years about a tournament game with Ohio St, I remember a year they were the 4 and 5 seeds or something like that and both lost the first weekend, it's finally happening. All of this is finally happening again.
As much as I want to write about the journey that got us here and have a love letter to the basketball team, this isn't the time. Our journey is not over yet. There are miles to go before the season sleeps. I want to write everything twice because I'm so incredibly happy about that win. I said it last night somewhere in the explosion of joy that occurred after the game, but the job Mick Cronin has done this season is special. The work the players put in this season is special. The 4,000 fans who went to see UC play McGill and Chicago St are special. The people who filled the arena on Senior Day against Marquette are special. Everything about this season has come together in a beautiful puzzle. This season is not over. Bring on, Ohio State. #BeatOSU.
1:30 to go. 50-50. Florida St trying to break token pressure. Dion Dixon baits Luke Loucks, steals his pass and throws the ball down with authority to put UC ahead by 2. It might be a little over reactionary, but that was one of the greatest plays in the history of Cincinnati basketball. 2 years ago Dion Dixon dribbled a ball off his foot against West Virginia in the Big East tournament. WV hit a 3 to win. Last night, Dion Dixon made (one of) the defining play of his career. I will admit to watching that play at least 10 times on my dvr at 3:30 in the morning.
Michael Snaer misses a 3 that Cashmere Wright rebounds. Cashmere Wright comes down the floor. He has Snaer one on one. He gets a screen from Gates that catches Snaer. CASHMERE WRIGHT drills one from the elbow. UC up 4. Until that point, Cash was 1-9. Was there any doubt on Earth that shot was going in? HELL NO. I, and probably many others twitter was moving really fast, said that Cash was going to make a play late because Cash always makes a play late. Cash made a fucking play late.
Luke Loucks deciding he was fouled and traveling was one of the most unbelievable things I have seen in the last minute of a game ever.
The inbound pass Yancy Gates threw was another unbelievable thing. The only way Dixon could have stayed in is if he were the black swan.
Then Yancy totally redeemed himself by getting a rebound and CONFIDENTLY, had to be in all caps, knock down both free throws.
Sean Kilpatrick knocked down free throws.
JaQuon Parker knocked down free throws.
Then Sean Kilpatrick decided that fans needed to have a heart attack, so he tried throwing a quick pass back to Dixon on the inbound was barely off of Florida St. Dixon loved the heart attack theme, so he took a step on the baseline, which you can't do on a deadball.
And Dixon totally redeemed himself by blocking Michael Snaer's next 3 point attempt into the Florida State bench.
As time ticked down before Ian Miller threw up the 3 that was never going to fall, the realization of HOLY FUCKING SHIT, WE ARE GOING TO WIN THIS!!! hit me and it hasn't left. I hope it doesn't go away until Thursday. The realization that your team is going to win and your team is going to advance is one of the reasons that sports are so special. It makes up for all of the times that seasons end in sadness.
The 38:30 leading up to the final 90 seconds of euphoria were agonizing. It was a battle. Florida St had a 5 point lead for a minute and a half. That was the largest margin until the Gates free throws. Every possession was a battle. It wasn't true at all, but it seemed like Florida State had the lead the entire second half and UC was pushing against the wall. The teams exchanged the lead and ties numerous times. You had two teams defend with everything they had for 40 minutes. There were maybe 6 easy shots in the game, the 3 Dixon dunks, 2 of the Snaer 3s and the Dulkys transition 3. That was it. Everything else you had to fight tooth and nail to get.
To hammer down that point, we had a crazy sequence in the second half. Dixon got a steal, he's going on a break and is tripped, losing the ball. Someone on Florida St DESTROYS Dulkys by running into him. Dixon has the ball on the floor for half a half second before someone falls on him with a flying knee drop Randy Savage style and a whistle blows with guys being carried off the floor. Both Dixon and Dulkys returned. Not a single foul was called on that play.
If you want to know the number 1 reason that game was 62-56, it was because of the officials. You could have, and I think Bernard James did, attack someone with a chainsaw in the post and not get a whistle. Shooters couldn't run off screens without being grabbed or swatted it. Some shots were goaltended it appeared. There was a horrible charge called on Sean Kilpatrick where the guy undercut him as SK was coming down from his layup. It was a very poorly officiated game.
Someone on twitter asked me, and I wrote it in the preview, what the keys to the game were. I said slow the pace. The pace was 65 possessions, a win for UC. Keep Florida State off the offensive glass. 10 total offensive rebounds, win. 2 of those offensive rebounds were team boards, so FSU had to inbound the ball. That's great. It just is great. The third was 3 point shooting.
That's were Sean Kilpatrick took over. He drilled one with 3:45 left to put UC up 3. After Loucks tied it, SK came back down the floor and dropped ANOTHER 3 to put UC back up. You don't win this game if guys don't make huge plays. Sean Kilpatrick made some huge plays. He's never afraid to shoot.
Mick Cronin gets blasted a lot for the offense. It's for reasons like the first half. UC was 8-29, 27.6%. He doesn't get the credit he deserves for changing up the gameplan and seeing UC go 11-21, 52% the second half. The in game adjustments were huge. Mick somehow still has his haters, and that's great because they can hate his short ass as he put this program back in the Sweet 16.
THIS TEAM FINALLY MADE FREE THROWS. 19-23!!!!!!!
The offense struggled with turnovers, 8 in the first half, 7 in the second. Florida State is very good defensively. The Bearcats forced 17 turnovers of their own to win that category. James had 4, Kreft 3, Gibson 2. 9 on the bigs. Just like they drew it up.
The turnovers really helped the defense mask a not great showing in the second half. FSU shot 41.7%, 8-9 at the foul line. The Noles made just 2 three pointers. Like everyone else, I was really worried when Michael Snaer hit his first 2 threes. He finished the game 1-7 from 3 and just 2-9 total for 4-11.
That Florida State team was damn good. I have no doubt that if the game turned out differently, they could have made a final four run. They throw big after big after big down low, gross, and it seems like they all block shots. FSU had 8. The guards are very good. Dulkys had 8 points and 3 steals, but it seemed like they all happened in 20 seconds. Great season, sorry you were in the way.
Cashmere Wright was just 2-10 from the field. He missed all 4 of his 3 point attempts. But he had a great game. Cash made the big shot as talked about earlier, but he did so much more. He got the offense running. He assisted SK on both of his gigantic 3s as part of his 6 assists. He had 5 rebounds, including the one that led to his big bucket. More importantly, he had 5 steals. What turned him into John Stockton defensively, I don't know, but I love it. I'm so glad he gets to play this tournament healthy. He nearly died on a Bernard James screen he said no one called out late. He survived. 4 am McDonald's breakfasts all around. Check out dude int he stands.
My friend, who doesn't really care about college hoops, texted me during the game and like some UC fans, he was complaining about Dion Dixon's shot selection. Dixon wore that collar going 5-14. Take away his dunks and he was 2-11 from the field. But he hit all 4 of his free throws. One of his shots was a 3 that tied the score at 32. He finished with 15 points. Dixon had 3 turnovers, 1 assist and just 2 boards, but he had 3 gigantic steals. He had 3 huge fast break dunks. He made one of the best plays in UC history. I'm gonna miss you when you're gone, best friend.
Some former UC players were getting on Sean Kilpatrick during the second half for not taking a bigger role in the offense. When Bernard James was at the line with 4:13 left, SK read their tweets and scored 10 points the last 3:45. He scored a layup with 12 minutes left to put UC in front. He was 5-9, 4-6, 4-4 for a game high 18 points. It's not how many shots you make, it's when you make them. Sean Kilpatrick made them all when the Bearcats needed them the most. He's been having a rough go of it lately, but you would never tell by watching him play. He's fearless. On top of the points, Killa had 6 rebounds and 2 steals. All of them huge. That's what they needed from Sean Kilpatrick. That's what Sean Kilpatrick gave them. Still don't think he's put down the ball from last night.
Yancy Gates was clearly bothered by the FSU big men in the post. He had a lot of trouble getting his shot, 3-7. I want to say all 4 misses were blocked. Gates had just 5 rebounds. He blocked 1 shot, as you see in the photo. Yancy Gates did 2 huge things though. 1 shows up in the box score, 1 doesn't. He was 4-5 at the foul line. Never a doubt he would miss late. Secondly, Yancy adapted and played some great low post defense. FSU doesn't have great scoring big men like the next team UC will play, but they have guys taller than Gates. Yancy used his body and positioning very well to not let them get easy shots. James was 6-13, Gibson had 4 attempts, White didn't make a field goal. The box score doesn't show it, but Yancy was big.
There was one player on the court who had double digit rebounds. There was one player on the court who set a career high in rebounds. That man was JaQuon Effing Parker. He had 11 boards, 5 offensive. UC had 8 in game offensive rebounds. The man has no business, NONE, getting 11 rebounds in a game like this. Yet, there he is. Park has become one of my favorite Bearcats ever. Not a lie. I love his story. He's had to earn every bit of what he's accomplished this season. That's not to say he's been flawless. He presses on offense too much at times. Like the first half when he was 0-5. But in the second half, he went 2-3 and nailed 2 huge free throws. Parker had 4 assists to 1 turnover. 9-11-4 from a 6-3 power forward. Love you, Park.
One guy in the game was a foul magnet, no matter how physical the game was. That was Justin Jackson. He played 15 minutes and had 4 fouls. He did Justin Jackson things. He made a beautiful Euro-step move that he Jacksonly banked home at 78 mph. He had 2 blocks and a steal. He also committed crazy fouls and had a turnover. Jackson gave us something else as well. Justin Jackson What the Fuck Face and Justin Jackson Number 1.
Jermaine Sanders played 5 minutes and did a lot. He scored a layup. He had a rebound. He blocked a dunk. Then he threw the ball right back to FSU for a dunk anyway. Like I said, he did a lot.
Ge'Lawn Guyn and Cheikh Mbodj both had turnovers in a stretch where UC turned the ball over 3 times in a row. Guyn had a steal. 13 had two fouls. They played a solid 15 minutes that let guys rest.
I could seriously keep on going, but this post is already over 2,100 words and there is still the box score. I love this team. I love you guys. This is so much fucking fun. I wouldn't trade the last month of this season for anything.
Beat Ohio State.
Photos: Cincinnati.com, GoBearcats/AP
Box score: Go Bearcats
Official Basketball Box Score Cincinnati vs Florida State 3/18/12 8:58 p.m. at Nashville, Tenn. (Bridgestone Arena) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- VISITORS: Cincinnati 26-10 TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS ## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN 01 Wright, Cashmere.... * 2-10 0-4 1-2 0 5 5 2 5 6 2 0 5 33 03 Dixon, Dion......... * 5-14 1-4 4-4 2 0 2 0 15 1 3 1 3 34 23 Kilpatrick, Sean.... * 5-9 4-6 4-4 0 6 6 2 18 0 2 0 2 37 34 Gates, Yancy........ * 3-7 0-0 4-5 1 4 5 4 10 0 2 1 1 31 44 Parker, Jaquon...... * 2-8 0-1 5-6 5 6 11 3 9 4 1 0 0 30 05 Jackson, Justin..... 1-1 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 4 3 1 1 2 1 15 13 Mbodj, Cheikh....... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 9 14 Guyn, Ge'Lawn....... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 6 15 Sanders, Jermaine... 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 2 0 1 1 0 5 TEAM................ 2 1 3 1 Totals.............. 19-50 5-15 19-23 10 23 33 18 62 13 15 5 13 200 TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 8-29 27.6% 2nd Half: 11-21 52.4% Game: 38.0% DEADB 3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 2-8 25.0% 2nd Half: 3-7 42.9% Game: 33.3% REBS F Throw % 1st Half: 7-10 70.0% 2nd Half: 12-13 92.3% Game: 82.6% 0,1 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- HOME TEAM: Florida State 24-10 TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS ## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN 01 GIBSON, Xavier...... * 2-4 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 1 4 1 2 3 0 16 03 LOUCKS, Luke........ * 3-5 2-3 6-6 0 2 2 3 14 4 4 0 0 29 04 DULKYS, Deividas.... * 3-4 1-2 1-2 1 2 3 4 8 3 2 0 3 33 05 JAMES, Bernard...... * 6-13 0-0 0-1 1 4 5 3 12 0 4 3 0 32 21 SNAER, Michael...... * 4-11 3-9 0-0 0 1 1 2 11 1 0 0 0 28 10 WHITE, Okaro........ 0-5 0-1 3-4 2 5 7 4 3 0 2 0 0 27 12 PETERSON, Jeff...... 1-3 0-1 2-2 1 1 2 1 4 1 0 0 1 11 30 MILLER, Ian......... 0-4 0-1 0-0 2 3 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 18 50 KREFT, Jon.......... 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 2 0 0 3 2 1 6 TEAM................ 2 1 3 Totals.............. 19-50 6-17 12-15 10 21 31 20 56 11 17 8 5 200 TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 9-26 34.6% 2nd Half: 10-24 41.7% Game: 38.0% DEADB 3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 4-8 50.0% 2nd Half: 2-9 22.2% Game: 35.3% REBS F Throw % 1st Half: 4-6 66.7% 2nd Half: 8-9 88.9% Game: 80.0% 0,4 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Officials: Joseph Derosa, Bryan Kersey, Terry Oglesby Technical fouls: Cincinnati-None. Florida State-None. Attendance: 11033 Score by Periods 1st 2nd Total Cincinnati.................... 25 37 - 62 Florida State................. 26 30 - 56