PHILADELPHIA – With nearly a dozen NBA scouts watching, University of Cincinnati junior guard Jacob Evans III hit a game-winning shot to avert a Temple upset of the Bearcats here Thursday night.
Evans, projected by the Sporting News as a 2018 first-round NBA draftee and by others as a second-rounder, hit a jumper just inside the top of the 3-point circle with one second left to give the No. 19 Bearcats a 55-53 comeback win.
Evans, facing the basket, dribbled for several seconds near the top of the key as the clock wound under 10 seconds. A pick by Gary Clark helped Evans lose one man and then, standing almost in place, Evans performed a half-dozen crossover dribbles through his legs. Evans finally drove to his right, then rose and fired. Swish.
The UC bench erupted in cheers, as the clock officially showed 0.4 seconds left. Temple got a chance to inbound the ball, but it was fruitless as the 0.4-second mark did not allow Temple enough time for a legal shot.
“All night, they were icing me on the pick and roll,” Evans said. “Coach had Gary slip out of it so they couldn’t. I was just able to get to a one-on-one move, and I just happened to make a shot for us to win it.”
UC trailed for most of the game, before a late rally decided it.
The Bearcats (13-2, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) stole one from Temple (7-7, 0-3 AAC). UC led for less than two minutes of the first half, continued to trail for most of the second half, and did not regain the lead until senior forward Kyle Washington made it 52-50 on a 3-pointer with 1:57 left.
In the end, it was 53-53 before Evans scored off of a designed play.
“I thought Temple played unbelievably hard tonight,” UC coach Mick Cronin said. “Give them a lot of credit. I thought their halfcourt defense was tough, physical and aggressive and I thought their offensive rebounding was tremendous. But you’ve got to give our guys credit. We found a way to win.”
Washington led UC with 18 points and had six rebounds. Evans had 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Senior forward Gary Clark scored 10 points for UC, and junior point guard Justin Jenifer had nine points.
Senior forward Obi Enechionyia led Temple with 14 points and sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. scored 12. Sophomore guard Quinton Rose, Temple’s season scoring leader at 16.5 points per game, was held to 2 points.
UC now has six straight wins.
Analysis, notes and a winter weather watch:
LESSON LEARNED: “I think when you learn a lesson in victory, it’s a great thing,” Cronin said. “They were the more aggressive team, the more physical team, for 35 minutes. When you’ve got a big target on your chest and playing a team that’s in a must-win situation, even though it’s early January, you’re going to get an unbelievable effort from that team.
“We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win, but I give our kids credit. And obviously Jake hit a big shot.”
Washington, who kept UC alive by scoring 10 straight Bearcats points early in the second half, said the Bearcats kept at it despite their offensive funk.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Temple,” Washington said. “They were beating us to every loose ball. They were beating us to every 50-50 ball. Every hustle play, they were winning. They have talent. We had to start playing hard as a team, playing Cincy basketball.
“That’s a good team, so if we didn’t come ready to play then that’s what you’re gonna see, at the beginning of the game.”
BIG T: UC trailed by as many as eight points, and was down 50-43 with under five minutes left. A basket by Evans cut it to 50-45, then Clark made a conventional 3-point play to trim the Temple lead to 50-48 with 2:43 left.
Then, trouble for Temple. After the Owls were whistled for an offensive foul with 2:21 left, Temple coach Fran Dunphy smacked his nearby water bottle and an official saw it. Technical foul, and UC’s Clark hit one of two free throws to chop the Owls’ lead to 50-49.
UC then went ahead 52-49 on a 3-pointer by Washington with 1:57 left. The Bearcats never trailed again, but Temple did tie it 53-53 on three free throws by Alani Moore II with 18.7 seconds left. Moore had been fouled on a 3-point attempt by UC’s Jarron Cumberland.
BIG D: While Evans naturally was the talk of the postgame, Cronin pointed out that UC’s defense set up the Bearcats’ clinching rally. Temple did not score a field goal in the final five minutes of play and had only three points — all foul shots — in that span.
“In the last five minutes, I thought we did a much better job defensively,” Cronin said. “I thought we finally dug in and got some defensive rebounds, some loose balls that were huge, late in the game.”
BOMBS AWAY: Temple’s 10,200-seat Liacouras Center mostly was empty, after the so-called “bomb cyclone” winter storm that invaded the Northeast. The announced attendance was 4,274 at the 10,200-seat building, but that seemed generous. It appeared that less than 1,000 fans attended.
The Philadelphia area received several inches of snow Thursday. UC was unable to take its scheduled charter flight home late Thursday, and the Bearcats instead planned to fly home Friday morning.
NOT PRETTY: UC-Temple games typically are grinders, and Thursday was another such non-classic in terms of artful basketball. UC shot only 39.2 percent from the field and held Temple to 32.1 percent.
The Bearcats turned it over 16 times, but were much better after halftime when they made only three miscues. Temple made 11 turnovers, with a 16-16 deadlock in points off of turnovers.
SLOW START: UC was sluggish at the start. Temple was the opposite, going 4-for-4 from the field to start the game and taking a quick 9-4 lead.
UC could not get in rhythm offensively, with poor passing and poor spacing against an active Temple defense. The Owls switched between zone and man defenses.
UC trailed by as many as seven points, 29-22, before halftime. The Bearcats led only briefly in the early minutes, with a 12-9 lead UC’s biggest in the half.
TURNING THE TABLES: UC figured to have the edge especially inside, where Temple is not particularly strong. But, Washington and Clark were largely ineffective in the early going, and both sat late in the first half with two fouls apiece.
It also is not a good first half when UC’s usual top four scorers – Evans, Clark, Cumberland and Washington – combine for just 13 points. That was how many they had Thursday (Evans 6, Washington 5, Clark 2, Cumberland 0).
UC did wind up with a decisive 24-16 advantage on points in the paint.
BROOME STILL OUT: UC junior guard Cane Broome (sprained ankle) missed his second straight game. It is unclear when Broome will return, but he is not expected to miss extended time. Broome is UC’s fifth-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game.
THE FORECAST: Temple was picked to finish No. 7 in the AAC in a preseason poll of league coaches, while UC was voted to win the league.
MAGIC NUMBER: Cronin posted his 250th win as UC coach, and is now 250-137 in his 12th year in charge. Cronin is 319-161 overall, including three years at Murray State.
UP NEXT: UC returns home to face SMU in another AAC game on Sunday (6 p.m.) at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.