CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bearcats (13-5, 3-2) and Wichita State Shockers showcased a physical battle on Sunday afternoon in a 61-57 UC win.
Cincinnati shot 32.3% in the first half but weathered the storm in Kansas and found effective lineups using Hayden Koval (13 points, four rebounds, one block) and a mixture of small-ball looks.
Wes Miller's built this team on versatility, and it showed in a massive road victory to push them closer towards the top of the AAC standings. The veteran guards stepped up when things felt like they might unravel, and they spammed the three-point arc to counter Wichita's dominance on the inside (32-12 on points in the paint).
Here's the Three Man Weave on a statement road win for Cincinnati
Dejulius And Koval Don't Flinch
Conference road wins require even keeled mindsets and veteran moxy. Cincinnati got that in two different sizes on Sunday. David Dejulius (game-high 18 points, 3-of-4 from deep, two assists) steadied the ship throughout the afternoon. He single-handedly sparked scoring runs with fundamental offense at all three levels of the floor.
Wichita State was the hungriest team Cincinnati played all season. They were desperately trying to avoid their first three-game home losing streak since 2007-08.
Dejulius was hungrier. He was integral in UC winning the final two minutes of each half, which ultimately flipped the game. The Bearcats outscored WSU 9-2 in that stretch, with Dejulius scoring seven of those points.
The senior was as good on the defensive end against Etienne, who scored an inefficient 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting. He also led Cincinnati in usage rate on offense (25.8%).
"Dave Dejulius, the job he did on Etienne," Miller said after the game. "He took that responsibility, and David was in the game for 32 minutes; he guarded him for 32 minutes. Boy, I thought he just did a terrific job. And for David, who we are putting in so much of our action and we're asking so much of offensively to guard their best player who they put in so much action...I was super proud of that."
Koval was just as important to the win, if not more so. He finished 3-of-5 from deep, and his sharpshooting warped the floor. Morris Udeze had to come out of his comfort zone on the inside to follow Koval, who used textbook pick-and-pop action to score.
He played his third-highest minutes total of the season (18) and his most in conference play to crush the mismatch.
"Coach [Miller] makes decisions to give us a chance to win," Koval said. "It just happened to be I got a little more minutes tonight, and I just took advantage of the opportunity."
Koval noticed how WSU's defense was changing the more respect he commanded with the long ball. Cincinnati had to find triples with the paint-points disparity, and Koval was the tipping point.
"I can feel it a little bit," Koval said about the defense respecting his shot. "There was a possession near the end when I felt the guy on the backside help, and that's when John [Newman III] made the cut, and I could feel that they were helping a little bit more.
Cincinnati called on a consistent force all season; and one that's been used more sparingly—both drove a win on Sunday.
Fighting Paint Prowess From Long Range
It's not easy to win a basketball game while getting outmuscled in the paint and losing the rebound battle, but UC pulled it off with that patented nasty on-ball defense and open three-point looks.
The Bearcats shot 10-26 from deep to outscore Wichita (3-of-10) 30-9 from long range. Half of the Bearcats point came from outside.
"You gotta defend the three-point line if you want to win consistently in college basketball, so I'm glad we did that tonight," Miller said. "I do think the way that they were playing their ball-screen coverage, putting Hayden against Udeze, and letting Hayden pick-and-pop...I think that creates some problems for them."
Dejulius, Koval, and John Newman III (10 points, four rebounds) all hit multiple threes on a day where UC needed every one. The Bearcats couldn't get many whistles or much luck on some head-scratching misses at the rim, but they cashed enough long-balls to move their AAC record to 3-2.
Etienne and Udeze Carry The Load
Etienne (team-high 14 points, team-high six assists, six rebounds) had to carry a more sizable offensive load than he already toted as the Shockers' top scorer. He was ready to make up for the absence of WSU's leading assist man Craig Porter as the game leader in usage rate (31.8%).
Udeze (12 points, 11 rebounds) benefitted from Etienne's aggressiveness and drove the bus on Wichita's parade through the paint. All that being said, they were very inefficient outings. Udeze posted a 27% effective field goal rate while Etienne finished at 44%.
That's been a theme for both early on in conference play, with drops in shooting efficiency for both players compared to last year's conference marks. Cincinnati handed the Shockers another loss as they fall to 0-4 in conference play.
The Bearcats have a few days off before facing Tulsa at home on Thursday. The game tips off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
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