For the second time in just over a year, the Cincinnati Bearcats are champions of a non-conference tournament. After last season’s dominant showing in the Cayman Islands Classic, the Cats found themselves playing in the Emerald Coast Classic. In 2014, the Bearcats actually played in the inaugural Emerald Coast Classic, losing to Ole Miss in the final. Four years later, those two teams would meet again on the same exact stage, but not before the Cats faced off against George Mason on Friday.
Coming into the game, George Mason was ranked 149th in college basketball by KenPom.com, but regardless was a team hungry to get their season back on track after a bumpy 2-3 start. After a slow start, the Bearcats began to pull away in the late first half to lead 32-23 at half; a lead that would remain throughout the entire game.
Cane Broome stood out from start to finish, scoring a team high 21 points off the bench. Up until Friday, fans had yet to really see what Cane Broome was like at Sacred Heart, outside of a few flashes here and there. Ever since Mick Cronin started sophomore Keith Williams in place of Broome against North Carolina Central, Broome has played out of his mind, scoring 17 and 14 in the two games prior to Friday. Cane has really taken on the role of the Bearcats’ secondary scorer behind Jarron Cumberland, and has really helped to carry the Cincinnati offense when Cumberland goes cold, especially on Friday with Cumberland only scoring 11 points on 2-11 shooting.
Tre Scott also came up with a huge game on Friday, totaling a near double-double with 14 points and 8 rebounds. The tandem of Scott and Nysier Brooks has really started to take shape the past few games. Brooks is definitely the anchor defensively and on the boards, and Scott tends to lead the two offensively, but with Brooks getting into foul trouble early, Scott stepped up and led the team in rebounds while throwing in a block as well.
With a win against George Mason, the Bearcats got the chance to play for a tournament championship against Ole Miss the following day, after Ole Miss pulled out a minor upset against Baylor the night before. The Cats started off hot, at one point holding a 19-9 lead after a Rashawn Fredericks dunk, but Ole Miss eventually clawed their way back to a 37-33 deficit at the halfway point.
The second half started with both teams trading shots, but the Cats once again caught fire to bring themselves to a double-digit lead. At times, the lead was threatened by the Rebels, but in the end their efforts were deemed futile, with the Bearcats eventually taking home the championship by a score of 71-57.
Jarron Cumberland’s inconsistency might just be an issue fans have to deal with throughout the season. While that obviously isn’t great, guys like Cane Broome, Keith Williams, and even Tre Scott have showed they have the ability to step up and keep the Cincinnati offense from going dormant when Cumberland can’t find his rhythm.
Rashawn Fredericks is someone people should start keeping an eye out for in the next few games. After a rocky start, attempting to adjust to the Division-1 level, Fredericks seems like he’s starting to find his place on this Cincinnati roster, putting up a season-high of 11 against George Mason, while shooting 5-6 from the field.
A lot can be learned from the Emerald Coast Classic. After losing to Ohio State and blowing by a few buy games, people weren’t exactly sure how the Bearcats perform when matched up against much higher competition considering their play in the season-opener. For me, at least, they erased a lot of doubt I had prior.