Cincinnati entered Thursday night’s game against No. 2-seed Ohio State ranking among the best teams in the Big East with regards to turnovers committed, averaging 10.6 per game.
But in their most important game of the year their struggle taking care of the basketball was one of two things that would end Cincinnati’s season as they fell 81-66 in the second East Region semifinal of the night.
The Bearcats turned the ball over 18 times, a number they hadn’t reached since a November 21 win over Northwestern State, when they turned the ball over 19 times.
“Too many turnovers. We gave ourselves no chance to win,” said head coach Mick Cronin. “They’re hard enough to guard, but with 18 turnovers we just gave ourselves no chance.”
The move to a smaller lineup, one hastened by the events of December 10th, not only made Cincinnati a tougher team to guard but also a better team when it came to valuing the basketball.
That all unraveled against Ohio State, whose defense was led by point guard Aaron Craft. Craft finished the game with seven steals but that one number is just part of what the sophomore was able to do to get Cashmere Wright and company out of their game plan.
The other problem for Cincinnati was their inability to slow down Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas inside, with Yancy Gates’ early foul trouble not helping matters.
Sullinger and Thomas combined for 49 points and 18 rebounds while Gates accounted for just seven points and five rebounds in 29 minutes of action, and Thomas scored 20 of his 26 in the first half.
“We did a better job [of guarding Thomas] in the second half,” noted Cronin. “I think it’s pretty well documented the caliber of player he is. But we did a poor job guarding him in the first half, very poor job.”
Justin Jackson came off the bench to provided eight points and four blocked shots but he fouled out in 20 minutes of action, and facing a tandem as good as Sullinger and Thomas the Bearcats couldn’t afford for their big men to end up in foul trouble.
Cincinnati had a chance to win after going on a 24-9 run to take a 49-45 lead with 12:18 remaining, but their struggles both taking care of the basketball and guarding Ohio State’s big men came back to haunt them.