The Cincinnati Bearcats (17-8, 7-5) defeated the St. Johns Red Storm (12-12, 3-9) on Wednesday night by a final score of 71-61 in front of just over 8,000 fans at 5/3rd Arena. The Bearcats, who came into the game winners of 7 out of their last 9, dominated throughout most of the contest and held off a late St. Johns run to come out victorious.
The Bearcats benefited from a very fast start, scoring the first six points of the game. Senior forward Mike Williams said after the game that a quick start was something they emphasized in the days leading up to the game.
"Coach wanted the whole team to be pumped up tonight and come out really strong and get an early advantage," said Williams. "All week he told us this is a game we have to win because we have Pittsburgh on Saturday. If we were to drop this game and then have to head into Pittsburgh it wouldn't be good."
Despite taking a 17 point lead into halftime, the Bearcats still found themselves in a somewhat tight contest down the stretch. Head Coach Mick Cronin spoke to the run made by St. Johns after the game.
"We played 32 minutes of great basketball," said Cronin. "But we got a little sloppy late. You got to give St. Johns credit for that. They play hard and they never give up. I hesitate to say that we got sloppy as much as they caused us to get sloppy."
Mike Williams said after the game that while they didn't intend to let St. Johns climb their way back into the game, they still took solace in the fact that they did not fold under pressure.
"We knew they were going to pick up the pressure, and when they did we started to make some mistakes," said Williams. "But I was good that we held them off and were able to maintain the lead and win the game."
The Bearcats were lead in scoring by reigning Big East freshman of the week Yancy Gates who finished with a career high in points, 21, and 6 rebounds.
"The play-calling from coach got me open on a lot of back screens and cross screens from the guards," said Gates. "I don't think St. Johns knew we ran a lot of those plays because I was a lot more open than I thought I would be."
He continued, "I can feel my confidence growing more and more. I'm also getting more comfortable playing out there with the upper classmen and getting into the flow of the game. I can definitely feel my confidence getting bigger."
Cronin says a game like this may have been overdue for the big man.
This was probably overdue for him," said Cronin. "He did a good job of finishing around the basket. I would still like to see him rebound more and he knows that, but he did a good job for us tonight."
The Bearcats now head to Pittsburgh to take on a very tough Panthers team whose big men will no doubt serve as the toughest test of the season for a young Bearcat front court.
"It's going to be tough," said Cronin. "The fact that our big guys have yet to face Dejuan Blair and Sam Young is a major concern of mine."
The task will be tough, but if the Bearcats can shock the nation and pull out a win in Pittsburgh, it would no doubt solidify their sport as one of the Big East's best.