Larry Davis was just trying to act right during his first-ever postgame interview session after UC’s 93-83 win over Notre Dame Wednesday night at US Bank Arena. But Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates noticed Davis’ increased perspiration as he leaned across the podium to speak into the microphone, and they couldn’t help but relentlessly laugh at their teammate.
Here’s how it went down:
Reporter: Has it been tough for you trying to find your role, trying to find out where you fit in on this team?
Davis (sensing laughter): The last couple of … the last couple of games I’ve just been … I don’t even know. I’ve just been coming off letting people … (laughter)
Vaughn: Larry’s nervous – look, he’s sweating hard. He ain’t never had media day in his life, look at him he’s sweating. Look at him. What are you sweating for?
Davis: I told them about this when I came in …
Media Relations Dude: Any more questions for the players?
Davis took the harassment from his mates well, arguing on his way out the door that it was also really hot in the room. Either way, the Bearcats deserved to feel loose after beating fellow NCAA Tournament hopeful Notre Dame (12-9, 3-7), which entered the game trailing UC by a game in the Big East standings. The win improved UC to 15-8 overall and 5-5 in the conference.
Though Vaughn led all scorers with 34 points, it was Davis’ 21 that allowed the Bearcats to take advantage of a Notre Dame defense ranked 14th in the league. Vaughn got 19 of his from the foul line, while Davis finished 8-of-14 overall and 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
“I thought Larry stepped up tonight and played great defense against Kyle McAlarney,” Vaughn said. “He’s a great shooter and Larry took away his three point shot and made him do some things he didn’t want to do, and he played great defense and he made some great shots, which Larry is very capable of doing.”
Mick Cronin also saw Davis’ offensive production as a footnote to his stellar defense on McAlarney, who entered the game averaging 15.9 per game and shooting 46 percent from 3-point range. McAlarney finished with 13 points, nine of which came from the foul line, and was 0-for-5 from 3.
“Larry Davis, for us, was by far the star of the game,” Cronin said. “He holds Kyle McAlarney to zero 3-point makes and then turns around and has an unbelievable offensive night with 21 points.”
As big as the win was for the ‘Cats – their 5-5 conference record puts them a half game ahead of West Virginia for eighth place in the Big East, which is expected to send between eight and 10 to the NCAA Tournament – it was equally as devastating for the Irish, who came into the contest having lost five straight with a trip to No. 12 UCLA and a home game against No. 7 Louisville next week.
The game was close early with seven ties and 12 lead changes in the first half, which ended tied at 37 after Vaughn hit three of four free throws to end the half, two of which came on a technical foul on McAlarney after he pushed UC forward Steve Toyloy in the chest after a play.
Cronin earned his own technical late in the first half after McAlarney missed a 3-point attempt after coming through a double screen, though Cronin swore after the game he couldn’t recall what it was that caused him to tear off his suit jacket, throw it on the ground and then remove the loosened tie that had twisted halfway toward his right shoulder during his extended outburst.
Davis scored eight straight UC points to erase a four-point Irish lead early in the second, and the ‘Cats used a 10-point run midway through the period to take a 14-point lead with 10 minutes remaining. Two minutes later a Rashad Bishop steal led to four UC players on a fast break, with Vaughn underhanding the free assist to Gates, who gorilla-slammed it through the hoop.
Notre Dame never got the lead below 10 after that, as Davis continued hitting mid-range jumpers while Gates cleaned up on the offensive glass and Vaughn hit free throws down the stretch.
Big East preseason Player of the Year Luke Harangody’s 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists weren’t enough to keep the Irish in it, as UC dedicated itself to guarding the 3-point line. Notre Dame entered the game shooting 40 percent from behind the arc but finished just 3-of-13.
Still, UC’s big-man-combination of Gates and Toyloy held their own against the 6-8, 250 pound Harangody, who scored at least 20 points for the 14th consecutive game. Gates finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while Toyloy chipped in five points and five boards.
“We did a great job defending the 3-point line tonight,” Cronin said. “I thought our guys did a really great job defensively on Luke Harangody one-on-one. He had 18 points with three minutes remaining, which for normal people that’s pretty good. For a guy averaging 27 and 14 in the Big East is pretty good on our part, especially since Yancy and Steve are both first year players and they were able to match him. We thought if we could stay even with him and shut the other guys down that it would give us our best chance for success. And make sure we shut down the 3-point line. We really made a decided effort to do that.”
At 15-8 overall with five Big East wins, the Bearcats would be solidly in consideration for an NCAA Tournament berth if the season ended today. UC still has games against fellow tournament hopefuls West Virginia and Georgetown that will determine — along with the conference tournament — which team will make the cut, assuming the Bearcats can take care of business in their three games against the league’s weaker teams and hold their own against Pitt, Louisville and Syracuse. Though his team has a way to go, Cronin agrees that UC’s current position is promising, for no other reason than that they still have a shot at the Big Dance.
“This is a big win, but if you lose your next three it’s not a big win,” Cronin said. “The thing for our team that’s a new experience is that now we sit in February playing meaningful games as you try and carve out a spot for yourself in the postseason. So hopefully that will help us raise our intensity level each game out and sharpen our focus to improve individually and as a team.”