The Cincinnati Bearcats made their sixth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. That’s a feat only accomplished by a handful of teams. But the anguish of defeat is nothing new to March Madness. The Bearcats lost their opening round game to the Saint Joseph Hawks, 78-76.
Going into the tournament, the Bearcats were in select company. Only seven other teams had made the Big Dance six years in a row (Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, VCU, and Wisconsin). But, the Bearcats lost a heartbreaking thriller. It was a match that went back and forth, from beginning to end. The action went from fast breaks to half-court offense, with each team tossing their best blows.
The Bearcats took a quick 13-11 lead, as they got used to the Hawks. Cincinnati and Saint Joseph had met only four times prior. The last was in 1969. Freshman center Quadri Moore gave the Bearcats a needed lift. He dropped in six points, before rolling his ankle and leaving the game.
After sizing up the Bearcats, the Hawks went on a 16-6 run. It looked like they would be able to manhandle Cincinnati’s pressuring defense. DeAndre Bembry took the game over and showed why he’s the star attraction for the Hawks. Per ESPN, he ended the game with 23 points. Twenty of those points came in the first half. He led the Saint Joseph’s scoring attack.
The Bearcats stormed back to take a 32-31 lead on an Evans three-pointer at the 3:30 mark and would lead by as many as three approaching half. Bembry and the Hawks rebounded to take the lead in the closing minutes. Cincinnati entered the break trailing Saint Joseph’s, 41-40. Bearcats hopefuls were in for an exciting second half.
Bembry was a beast for Saint Joseph’s in the first half, going 7-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from deep to score 20 of the Hawks 41 points. He also entered the break with two rebounds, one steal and a block.
The second half started much like the first, as both teams traded scoring runs. DeBerry continued to play a huge role, scoring four of Cincinnati’s first nine. Saint Joseph’s settled into their offense before the Bearcats did, extending their lead to 63-51.
All looked lost for the Bearcats. The Hawks had gone on a 17-2 run and looked like they were in control. That’s when freshman Jacob Evans found his stride as a shooter. He scored eight points, in three consecutive possessions and fueled the Bearcats comeback. Cincinnati went on an 18-5 run and took the lead 71-68.
The Hawks were ready with an answer. They responded with a 7-0 run that put them ahead 75-71 with 2:33 left in the game. Bearcats coach Mick Cronin called a timeout, to set the stage.
Coming out of the timeout, the Hawks tried to extend their lead but couldn’t. The Bearcats swarming defense blocked shots, caused turnovers and took control of the game. The Spokane crowd witnessed the Bearcats take a 76-75 lead.
After a timeout, the Hawks set up a three-point play and knocked it down, for a 76-75 lead, with only 11 seconds left in regulation.
With time running out, Troy Caupain raced down the right side of the court. He found a streaking Ellis and gave him a bounce pass. Ellis went up and dunked the ball, with the clock at zero. Officials initially called the basket good and signaled the game would go into overtime.
After a long courtside discussion, the basket was waved off. Cincinnati players were stunned. Octavius Ellis sat in disbelief, as tears welled in his eyes.
“I can’t tell if Octavius’ hands were off the ball or not,” Cronin explained, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. “What I do know for a certainty is that Bembry whacked him in the back of the head going up with.5 seconds left. For a 1,000 percent certainty, his head snaps to the left. When they watched the replay I’m sure they saw what they missed.”
Another heartbreaking loss ends the season, for the Bearcats.
[Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]