Pittsburgh led UC 34-26. Four non-starters found oddly large minutes for Cincinnati and two young offensive options were called upon.
Five Cincinnati players reached the foreboding two foul ceiling before halftime. Without Sean Kilpatrick, Ge'Lawn Guyn, and Titus Rubles unproven players emerged.
About 36% of the early offerings came from the hands of Cheikh Mbodj. Generally a 'putback guy' Mbodj found himself emerging as an offensive focal point. Finally on his fifth shot of the afternoon the UC starting center scored a layup.
Mbodj's first score midway through the half invigorated a Bearcat mini-run.
Jackson stole a bounce pass and pounded home a breakaway jam as Mbodj lifted his fingers in triumph at the other end.
Another Jackson block led to Kilpatrick's driving layup in traffic. Despite a woeful, uneasy start the Bearcats clawed to within three points, 17-14.
Two on SK
Rarely one for foul trouble Kilpatrick absorbed his second foul midway through the opening half.
Coach Mick Cronin instantly inserted sophomore Jermaine Sanders.
A month ago Kilpatrick suggested Sanders improved more than any Bearcat in the offseason. Now circumstances dictated Sanders play while his supporter watched idly by.
Shaq Thomas also found extra minutes in the struggle. The perpetually-timid Thomas was loose with the ball and unreliable out high.
He trudged to the bench late in the half with a visible grimace. Cashmere Wright leaned onto his shoulder and offered a calm critique.
After the timeout Thomas missed both free throws. For a guy with splendid midrange touch these misses excaserbated the nervousness Thomas was feeling.
When he stopped thinking Thomas was actually helpful. He found loose balls and moved to open spaces eagerly. Once the ball found his hands Thomas froze up and appeared jittery.
As rough as Thomas played the game should serve his emotional maturity well. Mammoth atmospheres like the one presented by the Oakland Zoo come along just three or four times during the regular season. Next time Thomas will be more ready.
Sanders' Big East career entering play consisted of thirteen FG attempts.
Little empirical evidence existed to suggest that Sanders would be able to string together several shots against elite defenders.
He reached halftime with zero points, one rebound, and one steal.
Jamie Dixon caught an unusual technical foul for leaving the coaching box. Does anyone respect this rule? Does it matter?
Predominately viewed as an energy guy, Justin Jackson can instantly alter the emotions of 10,000 people. Tagged with a reaching foul during pressure Jackson hopped madly.
He opened his eyes widely and looked to the Bearcat bench to back his cause.
They did not.
The coaching staff swiftly requested Jackson calm down. Teammate JaQuon Parker directed Jackson more sternly to cool the antics.
Jackson frankly apologized to all three officials from a distance, hoping this would show true remorse and keep them from whistling a technical next time he reacted as wildly.
In truth Jackson's enthusiasm drives Cincinnati through the muck and they truly leaned on him when the game was at its ugliest early.