Subpar season ends in Cincinnati

Cincinnati's Eric Hicks had 23 points in the 76-62 Bearcats win.

C.J. Spang

Going into its second-round game of the National Invitational Tournament, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team knew of two Cincinnati weapons that could prove to be problematic for the Gophers.

But that didn’t mean they could stop them.

Those two seniors – Eric Hicks and James White – had their usual solid games, leading the Bearcats to their 76-62 win over the Gophers on Tuesday at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.

Hicks put on a 23-point, 11-rebound, four-block performance that earned him the Bearcats’ single-season record with 110 blocks, passing current NBA star Kenyon Martin’s record of 107 blocks during the 1999-2000 season.

Despite Gophers coach Dan Monson’s pregame plea not to let the possibility of Hicks’ record get into the Gophers’ heads, Hicks’ blocks stunted an early Minnesota run and turned around the Bearcats’ slow start.

The senior forward tied the blocks record a little more than six minutes into the game, then broke the record four minutes later with a left-handed swat of a Vincent Grier shot.

Minnesota (16-15) was leading 11-5 when Hicks tied the record, but failed to score in the next 5:02, while Cincinnati (21-12) had no problem dissecting the Gophers defense, grabbing a 19-11 lead with 9:15 remaining in the first half.

But Hicks caused problems for Minnesota’s defense as well.

Even when he wasn’t scoring, his presence down low forced the Gophers to pay extra attention to him, leaving his teammates open on multiple occasions.

With 8:02 left in the first frame, the Gophers tried to triple-team Hicks, with Grier dropping off White and ending up in no man’s land.

That left White – Cincinnati’s leading scorer – wide open for a three-pointer, which he drilled, extending the Bearcats’ lead to 22-14. White finished with 17 points.

Although Hicks and White carried the scoring load, freshman guard Devan Downey’s nine assists fueled the Bearcats’ offense.

Cincinnati’s offense thrived against a sluggish Minnesota defense that was beat in transition multiple times, mostly by Downey.

On three separate occasions in the first half, Downey dribbled the ball the length of the court and past the Gophers’ defense for the lay-in for six of his seven points.

Cincinnati lead 39-29 at the halftime break, but gave Minnesota chances to get back into the game in the early part of the second half, especially when White was forced to take a seat after picking up his third foul 3:52 into the period.

With White on the bench, the Gophers closed the deficit to 43-38 with 15:18 remaining.

But White came back in the game a minute later, and from that point on, Minnesota was unable to take advantage of Cincinnati mistakes.

The Bearcats offense continued putting on a clinic and extended its lead throughout the final frame, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NIT Tournament with 76-62 win.

Despite being guarded by White, Grier scored a team-high 18 points, while fellow senior guard Adam Boone added 12 points.