THE LOCAL BOYS HAVE DONE IT AND MADE IT TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN! CINCINNATI HAS GOT BASKETBALL FEVER AND IS READY TO CHEER THEIR TEAM ALL THE WAY TO A NATIONAL TITLE. GO BEARCATS!
As the game wore on, with neither team able to gain an advantage and bodies constantly colliding, University of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told his players the outcome would hinge on which team could come up with an easy basket at the crucial moment.
Senior guard Dion Dixon got the message.
With the score tied at 50-50, Dixon baited Florida State’s Luke Loucks into throwing a pass that Dixon picked off and converted into an emphatic dunk, putting UC ahead for good with 1:32 to play as the Bearcats survived a brutally physical game to turn back tenth-ranked Florida State, 62-56, Sunday night in the third round of the NCAA tournament’s East Region at Bridgestone Arena.
“I cheated up on him and was able to get the steal,” Dixon said. “My eyes got real big. I seen him kind of looking back. He didn’t think I was going to read up. I just read up and got the steal. To swing the momentum like that in a clutch game in the biggest game of my life, it just feels good.”
No. 6 seed UC (26-10) matched its victory total from last year and will move on to face No. 2 seed Ohio State on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. in the East Region semifinals in Boston. No. 3 seed Florida State (24-10), the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion, saw a six-game winning streak come to an end.
It will be the first meeting between UC and Ohio State in an NCAA tournament game since the Bearcats beat the Buckeyes in the national championship game in 1962 and UC’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2001.
Sean Kilpatrick led UC with 18 points. Dixon scored 15. Loucks had 14 for the Seminoles.
After Dixon’s steal and dunk, UC got a defensive stop and Cashmere Wright dropped in a jump shot in the lane with 56 seconds left, giving UC a 54-50 lead. Yancy Gates was fouled after rebounding an Okaro White 3-point shot and made two free throws to put UC ahead, 56-50, with 35.3 seconds remaining.
Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker combined to make six straight free throws in the final 24 seconds to put the game away.
“It was World III,” Cronin said. “It was two teams going at it. Everything was contested, coaching adjustments on every other lay, veteran players making defensive plays on the defensive end.”
Despite a decided size advantage, the Bearcats out-rebounded Florida State, 33-31.
“We’ve been in a lot of physical games,” said junior guard JaQuon Parker, who had 11 rebounds to go with nine points, “but that one was real physical. Those were real big boys. They knew we played small, so I knew they were going to be physical with us from the start. You can bet that I ain’t backing down from nobody. That’s the type of mentality this team takes.”
UC also forced Florida State into 17 turnovers, 13 of which came on steals, five by Wright.
“We had in the scouting report that they were a tremendous what we call a strip team,” said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. “I thought they got a lot of deflections that led to baskets. Most of the time, when we turn the ball over, it’s in dead-ball situations where we don’t give up baskets on turnovers.”