Special to ZAGSBLOG
Things were looking great for Cincinnati and Sean Kilpatrick in February.
The Bearcats were ranked No. 6 in the country and had a robust 22-2 record. Kilpatrick, from Yonkers, N.Y., was a Player of the Year candidate and the Bearcats were the toast of the country.
It was going to be a great March for Cincinnati, and a coming out party for Kilpatrick, who scored more than 2,000 points in his college career.
Unfortunately, that — and winning a share of the American Athletic Conference title — were the high watermarks of Cincinnati’s season.
The optimism of February gave way to the cruelty of March on Thursday in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament.
No. 12 seed Harvard won a game as a lower-seeded team for the second time in as many years stunning No. 5 Cincinnati 61-57 in Spokane, Wash.
Cincinnati, which was the American Athletic Conference co-champions with Louisville, is now headed home. Kilpatrick will end his career well short of his goal.
Kilpatrick’s stellar career will end with 2,127 points, a rarity in college basketball’s “leave early even if you aren’t ready for the NBA” culture.
Kilpatrick’s NBA prospects remain unsettled. He’s a 24-year old senior and at 6-4, 210-pound would have to play the shooting guard spot.
Kilpatrick, who has a 3-year-old daughter named Bailey to care for, is a strong finisher and scorer, but shot 42.2 percent from the floor and 34.9 percent from the college 3-pointer. He averaged 4.4 rebounds per game and his 2.6 assists this year came with 2.0 turnovers per game.
As we wrote here, is age is actually a detriment, reflected in Draftexpress.com not even having him in its two-round mock draft.
What could have helped Kilpatrick was a long run in the NCAA tourney. He is likely no worse than a second team All-American and could sneak onto the first team depending on the views of voters. All that was missing off his resume was a long tourney run.
What doomed Cincinnati what’s doomed the Bearcats all season long – scoring. Kilpatrick did his part, scoring 18 points on 6 of 13 shooting including 3 of 6 from 3-point range.
The rest of Cincinnati? They struggled to get the ball into the basket.
“Our Achilles Heel is teams took away the perimeter at all costs and dare us to score inside,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “When we couldn’t do it we struggle. When we could do it, like against Memphis both times, we looked great… that would be the common denominator with us.”
The Bearcats came into the game ranked 256th in the nation in field goal percentage at 42.7 percent from the field. The Bearcats have struggled the last month scoring having only eclipsed 60 points twice their final seven games and didn’t score more than 60 points in any of their seven losses.
The Bearcats struggled throughout and Kilpatrick only attempted four shots in the second half.
“They played pretty good D and we were missing opportunities,” Kilpatrick said.
Harvard led for good after a 3-pointer when it was tied 6-6 and Cincinnati closed to 54-53 with 2:00 left. Siyani Chambers hit a jumper to extend it to 56-53.
Kilpatrick was called for a charge and after a missed Harvard 3-pointer, Titus Rubles missed a point blank layup for Cincinnati, which got the ball back when it went out of bounds off a Harvard player. Kilpatrick got the ball with a chance to tie, but turned it over again the backcourt leading to a foul, and a free throw from Chambers for a 57-53 lead.
Cronin needed someone else to step up after Kilpatrick, no one did.
“Harvard’s defense. Every time we tried to free (Kilpatrick) they doubled, Cronin said. “We weren’t able to make enough shots to loosen them up.”
Kilpatrick had two free throws to close the lead to 57-55 with 29 seconds left, but Chambers made two more free throws followed by missed 3-pointer from Cincinnati’s Jermaine Sanders sealed its fate.
Kilpatrick missed one more jumper, with five seconds left, the final touch of his college career.