With the number of games dwindling as the holidays approached, I didn't have many choices locally that fit into my schedule. I hadn't attended a Cincinnati game yet, and the number of opportunities to do so in a game that would count were running out. Plus, last year I witnessed a Red Line Upset when Presbyterian took out the Bearcats, so I was hoping for similar luck again.
I headed down I-75 to the UC campus for an afternoon game against Maryland-Eastern Shore. I knew that Cincinnati had a solid team from their national ranking and local media attention, coming into the game 8-0. But I didn't realize how poorly the Hawks from Maryland-Eastern Shore were performing until I heard the radio pregame show being played in the restroom. The Hawks had yet to win a game this season, coming in at 0-8. RealTimeRPI.com forecasted UMES's chance at victory at 0.4 percent. As Lloyd says in Dumb and Dumber, "So you're telling me there;s a chance. YEAH!"
A large portion of the area next to the UC campus is under construction, which is a good thing. Some of the areas around UC are a bit run down, so any effort to improve the surrounding area is welcome. But the number of parking spots near Fifth Third Arena have been greatly reduced because of the construction. The two nearest parking garages to the arena are reserved for pass holders and season-ticket holders only. That means general ticket buyers need to park in a garage halfway across campus.
With the weather overcast, but at a moderate temperature, it was a pleasant enough day to take the 10-minute walk through campus. Thankfully, there were other people that knew which way to go, because I had never really walked the UC campus before. It's reasonably nice for an urban campus with a mix of older brick buildings and super-new architecture. The space is well used, one building is practically underground so you walk across the roof of it.
To get to the arena, you have to walk through Nippert Stadium, home to the Bearcat football team. Nippert is a pretty cool venue, as Bearcat football has been played on that site since 1902, with the original stadium finished in 1924. Unlike most stadiums, the access is pretty unlimited. There were kids running around on the field and some students were running the stairs as I wandered around the concourse.
Cincinnati is definitely in an athletics transition. They seem to be one of the last castaways stranded on Big East Island, The athletic department is aspiring to bigger things, as they are planning an expansion of Nippert and are looking for one of the big five football conferences to take them. Any doubts that UC is a football school now could be cast aside when the biggest cheers of the day came from the announcement of a press conference later that night to introduce Tommy Tuberville as the new head football coach.
That's really a shame, because Cincinnati was a basketball school for decades. The Bearcats went to five straight Final Fours from 1959-1963, winning in 1961 and 1962. A statue outside Fifth Third Arena reminds you that one of the legends of the game played here. Oscar Robertson, still the only man in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season, was a Bearcat from 1957-1960, and still attends many UC games to this day.
I elected to take the cheap route for this game and sit in the upper level, which only cost $13. There were plenty of lower-level seats available behind the baskets, but at over twice the price. The turnout looked to be sparse, so I figured I could move down a bit later in the game. Indeed, only 6,400 people showed up to watch a major conference Top 20 basketball team.
Maryland-Eastern Shore would have a difficult task ahead of them. Like many of their HBCU brethren, the Hawks have been on one long road trip to start the season, including a trip to Hawaii for three games. Their only home game was a preseason exhibition against Salisbury. The key to pulling an upset is to hang around as long as possible and put some doubt in the minds of the superior team.
The Hawks got started on the right foot by winning the tip. Getting the first basket would give UMES some confidence. Unfortunately, Troy Snyder of the Hawks turned the ball over 20 seconds into the game. JaQuan Parker would get the steal and take it the other way, forcing a foul. Parker missed both free throws, but Sean Kilpatrick got the offensive rebound and found Cashmere Wright behind the arc. Wright drilled the three and any chance of the Hawks having a lead in this game was already gone.
The lead would get to 10 quickly and Maryland-Eastern Shore coach Frankie Allen was forced to burn a 30-second timeout before the first media timeout took effect. Five minutes in, and it was 18-8 Bearcats. The onslaught would continue as UC went on another 14-2 run capped by another Wright three to make the score 32-10 with 8:30 left in the half. I was contemplating how to kill the rest of the time and wondering if there was a cool giveaway if the Bearcats reached 100 points or something. Cincinnati would lead at the half 52-23.
The one bright spot for UMES is sophomore guard Kyree Jones, who has had a nomadic high school and college career. Jones, who stands out as a point guard by wearing No. 45, scored 13 of the Hawks' 23 first-half points. Maryland-Eastern Shore just couldn't get a ball to fall through the hoop, shooting 18.4 percent in the first half on 7-of-38 shooting.
All the games I had attended so far this season had some type of national halftime act. You would think a big school like UC would bring in some good entertainment with their budget. Instead, it was a classic mid-major halftime with the school dance team, baton twirlers and elementary school girls' basketball filling the 15 minutes.
With such a rout, there was little drama in the second half. The students chanted the name of local walk-on Alex Eppensteiner for the majority of the second half. When would Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin put him in? Would UC get to 100 points on the scoreboard and would there be free stuff? Should I take a picture of my #kixx
like Kyle did
in Season 7 whenever there was a blowout?
UC started to let off the gas with about eight minutes to go when a Titus Rubles dunk gave the Bearcats a 79-42 lead. Cincinnati would not score 100 points, and there was no mention of free stuff if they did get there. Eppensteiner would finally get in the game with 2:06 left (what took you so long Coach Cronin?) Eppensteiner would even get in the scorebook with a layup with 36 seconds left. And yes, a picture of my #kixx
The final scored ended up 92-60. Jones would end up with 25 for the Hawks, but got little help from his teammates. Snyder was the only other Maryland-Eastern Shore player to reach double-figures with 13. With another loss and another three road games to go before the Hawks finally get a home game on January 12, it has to feel that UMES is playing the role of the Washington Generals.
The Generals, the constant foe of the Harlem Globetrotters, have an estimated 6-13,000 record against the Globetrotters, the last win in 1971. That's a winning percentage of .04 percent. But that's the life and role of many squads below the red line unfortunately. With all the conference realignment going on, maybe UMES should try to find a better conference with more resources. I think this new Hyphen League
I've heard about would be a good fit.