Writer's Note: This recap was written months ago, but eaten by a hard drive failure on my computer. This is an attempt to recreate a much better recap.
Purgatory: The condition or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven.
While the concept of purgatory is associated more with the Catholic Church instead of its Protestant counterparts, the Presbyterian College basketball team is going through their own personal purgatory this season. The Blue Hose should be in their first season of eligibility for the NCAA championship. However, some errors on a self-report required by the NCAA caused Presbyterian to be held back a year. So the Blue Hose would end their 2011-2012 campaign after their February 25th game at Gardner-Webb. Thankfully, Blue Hose coach Gregg Nibert hadn't loaded up his squad with seniors this year like North Dakota State did with Bison Fever. Presbyterian will only lose three players at the end of the year.
With no championship to play for, Presbyterian's game at Cincinnati would be an opportunity for the Blue Hose to announce that they were ready for big-time Division I basketball. Cincinnati entered the game ranked number 20 in the nation and tabbed to finish fifth in the Big East preseason poll.
The atmosphere for the game definitely wasn't big-time. The UC students were on break. Most fans were more concerned with the football team's game at Rutgers earlier in the day. The 4 p.m. tip was set only days before to avoid a conflict with the televised football game at noon. Also, a high school football playoff game between Catholic school rivals Moeller and St. Xavier would be held next door at Nippert Stadium later in the evening. Not even 5,000 people could be bothered to attend the game. The average fan just wasn't interesting in seeing a sure blowout and UC's season-ticket base is hampered by ridiculous donation requirements. My seat in section 112, behind the basket, would require a $1,800 donation (in addition to the $500 for the season ticket). The required donations go even higher for better seats, up to $50,000 for courtsides.
With a crowd that was lacking in enthusiasm, Presbyterian got off to a quick start, led by junior guard Khalid Mutakabbir. Mutakabbir scored eight of Presbyterian's first 12 points, and the Blue Hose led 12-3 at the second media timeout. I made sure to take a picture of the scoreboard around that point, thinking it would be a nice moment to capture while the lead lasted (and how funny "Blue Hose" looks on a scoreboard.)
Indeed, the lead wouldn't last. The Bearcats erased the deficit in two minutes and by halftime, Cincinnati led 26-19. It seems like the "Pin me, pay me" (a term borrowed from jobbers in professional wrestling) rout was on.
The second half started out the same as the end of the first. Cincinnati continued to open up the lead. With 10:11 left in the game, the Bearcat lead was up to 15, 47-32. Admittedly, my attention turned to my cell phone and twitter feed. But Mutakabbir and senior Al'Lonzo Coleman wanted to make one more run. In the next three minutes, Presbyterian would chip the lead to 10.
Cincinnati got loose with the ball, turning it over and taking quick shots. The Blue Hose would capitalize in transition, with a couple of layups. Now the lead was down to four with five minutes remaining. The inattentive crowd suddenly realized that the home team was in danger. The burst of energy helped the Bearcats, who extended the lead to seven, 54-47, with 1:35 left.
It was now or never for Mutakabbir and the Blue Hose. Mutakabbir drained a superhoop to cut the lead to four. After Cincinnati's Dion Dixon missed a jumper, Jay Reynolds pushed the ball down court, and no Bearcat picked him up until it was too late. Hoop and the harm, free throw converted, 54-53 UC, 38 seconds remaining.
Coach Nibert decided to try to extend the game instead of relying on a defensive stop. But the Blue Hose were patient with whom to foul. They waited until Yancy Gates touched the ball to commit the foul. Gates had not had a good day at the stripe, only going 2-for-5 at that point. The gamble paid off, and Gates missed the front end of a 1-and-1. However, disaster struck when Presbyterian couldn't corral the rebound. It was UC's ball out of bounds.
On the inbound, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick didn't wait for a foul, instead rushing up a lay-up attempt from about six feet. The layup missed, Coleman grabbed the rebound, and Presbyterian had their shot with 14 seconds left. Knowing the Bearcats' transition defense had been suspect, Nibert elected to have his team play it out without a timeout. Eric Washington found Mutakabbir out on the wing behind the arc wide open. Release. Rotation. SPLASH! Blue Hose lead by two!
Cincinnati would have one last chance with seven seconds left. But the play was a poor one: Cashmere Wright had to force a 25-foot superhoop attempt. It wasn't close. It was time for a Presbyterian team meeting on the Bearcat C-Paw logo at midcourt.
The scoreboard operator tried to erase the evidence as quickly as possible. But the switch at the scorer's table only controls the three main scoreboards, not the auxiliary scoreboards on the side. Those are another switch apparently. That gave me the chance to capture the score for eternity (or at least until the computer file goes away.) Bearcats 54, Blue Hose 56. A red line upset to savor, and for Presbyterian, proof that they were ready to escape purgatory.
PRESBYTERIAN 56, at CINCINNATI 54 11/19/2011
PRESBYTERIAN 3-2 (0-0) -- K. Mutakabbir 11-15 0-0 25; A. Coleman 3-13 6-8 12; J. Johnson 1-3 2-2 5; J. Reynolds 3-4 1-1 7; P. Miller 1-5 0-0 2; E. Washington 1-2 0-0 2; R. McTavish 0-0 0-0 0; J. Clyburn 0-1 0-0 0; R. Hargrave 1-2 0-0 3; W. Truss 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 9-11 56. CINCINNATI 2-1 (0-0) -- Y. Gates 7-16 2-6 17; S. Kilpatrick 7-15 1-2 19; C. Wright 1-8 0-0 2; D. Dixon 3-12 0-0 7; J. Jackson 4-8 1-2 9; K. Gaines 0-2 0-0 0; G. Guyn 0-1 0-0 0; J. Sanders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-62 4-10 54.
Three-point goals: PRES 5-12 (A. Coleman 0-1; J. Johnson 1-3; P. Miller 0-2; R. Hargrave 1-1; K. Mutakabbir 3-5), CINC 6-19 (D. Dixon 1-6; Y. Gates 1-1; C. Wright 0-5; S. Kilpatrick 4-6; G. Guyn 0-1); Rebounds: PRES 27 (A. Coleman 11), CINC 34 (D. Dixon 10); Assists: PRES 10 (E. Washington 6), CINC 8 (D. Dixon 2); Total Fouls -- PRES 13, CINC 12; Fouled Out: PRES-None; CINC-J. Jackson.