The Tale of the Tooth

This is the tale of the tooth.

Or better yet, the whole truth about the tooth.

FullSizeRender

When UConn’s Amida Brimah caught Gary Clark with an elbow last Saturday in the AAC Tournament semifinals, he sent the Bearcats forward to the bench two minutes into the game with a tooth in his hand.

“As soon as it happened I thought, ‘Crap. I should have been wearing my mouthpiece,’” said Clark.

“I didn’t know what happened,” said assistant coach Darren Savino. “He comes over to the bench and he’s got a grimace on his face and then he handed me a tooth.”

“He had his hand out thinking it was a mouthpiece I guess,” said Clark. “I’m sure he was shocked when he realized it was my tooth. He turned and yelled, ‘It’s a tooth’ and (trainer) Robb (Williams) ran over and got me out.”

“I’m like, ‘What am I going to do with this guy’s tooth?’” said Savino. “So I go down to Robb and say, ‘Gary just gave me his tooth.’ He puts on his rubber gloves and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute – why are you putting on gloves? Give me something for my hands.’ So he comes and gives me sanitizer and the rest is history.”

The story, of course, didn’t end there. Clark went on to have one of the best games of his UC career finishing with 25 points and 9 rebounds.

Clark vs UConn in AAC tournament

“It tells you what kind of warrior Gary Clark is,” said Savino. “He spits his tooth out, stays on the court, and doesn’t bat an eyelash. He gets 25 and 9 with guys draped all over him fouling him on every possession.”

Did the elbow to the face motivate Gary?

“Just a little bit,” said Clark. “It just showed the physicality of the game and how teams are trying to play against us. I took one to the face last week and had a fat lip. It just comes with the game.”

“It says that I need to elbow him myself or upset him more often,” said Mick Cronin with a laugh. “He was upset. He went to the trainer and said, ‘Give me my mouthpiece.’ Nobody wants to listen to me but he got intentionally elbowed the week before and he had had enough.

“I’ve been telling him that you’ve got to play angry. In life you’ve got to be a great person, but when you get between those lines you’ve got to play angry. Hopefully he realized what he’s capable of. That’s the way I look at it.”

But there’s one more thing you should know.

Amida Brimah didn’t break Gary’s tooth. It had already been broken by Clark’s roommate Cane Broome in a preseason practice.

“We were playing two-on-two at practice,” said Broome. “I was guarding Kevin Johnson and he drove baseline and went up for a shot and I tried to block it. Gary was on my team and he tried to block it too. I fell backwards and my elbow hit him in the mouth. He said, ‘My tooth, my tooth.’ It was out.”

“He got like four stiches in his elbow,” said Clark. “He was the originator of it. I blame Cane.”

“It wasn’t funny, but after the fact we kind of laughed that Cane knocked somebody’s tooth out and he weighs 150 pounds,” said Savino.

So the tooth that was knocked out in Hartford was actually a replacement.

“He came to the bench and said, ‘Do I look ugly?’ Then he smiled,” said Broome.

“I got it fixed on Monday morning,” said Clark. “It was just a tad bit painful but I’m glad I’ve got my smile back.”

Unfortunately, Gary didn’t get the tooth back.

“My little brother said I should have saved it for the tooth fairy,” he said.

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Washington’s Impact Goes Beyond Stat Sheet

There are 21 columns on a typical college basketball stat sheet. Points, rebounds, shooting percentage, etc.

There’s no stat that measures enthusiasm, but if there were, NC State transfer Kyle Washington would be among the national leaders.

“You can’t really put a number on it, but the sprit and the passion and the fun that he has playing basketball is tremendous,” said Mick Cronin.

The Bearcats’ head coach says Washington’s zeal has had a huge impact on this year’s team since returning core players like Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, Kevin Johnson and Jacob Evans have even-keeled personalities.

“Kyle was just what they needed,” said Cronin. “He was an injection of talent, confidence, and energy every day. He’s beaten Duke, he’s beaten (North) Carolina, he’s had big games, he’s been to the Sweet 16. If I let him, he’d pull a Terry Nelson and predict that we’re going to win it all. But you’ve got to have a little of that. You’ve got to have some bravado.”

“I stay positive and always try to look at the glass as half-full,” said Washington. “Every time that somebody says that something isn’t possible, there’s always a way to get it done. That’s my mentality.”

And then there are his contributions on the court.

Kyle Washington, Juwan Durham

Washington earned Second Team All-Conference honors this season after averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds. He’s 5th in the AAC in field goal percentage, 7th in blocked shots, and 10th in rebounding.

“The thing I love the most is that he can get you a basket when you really need a basket,” said Cronin. “In our comeback at Tulsa, he had two tough buckets in traffic and you’ve got to have answers when you’re in tough situations. You can go to him and get a basket.”

But even when his shots aren’t going in, Washington is giving his teammates a shot in the arm.

“He’s that big brother,” said Gary Clark. “He’s pulled that verbal side out of me to talk to guys at practice and off the court. His positive attitude has really pulled another side out of the Bearcats.”

“He is such a positive person that it’s almost like there can be no divisiveness with him around,” said Cronin. “He’s going to bring everybody together. It’s interesting because sometimes a guy like that is just a role player. This guy’s a scorer. But you can’t get mad at him for some of the shots that he takes because he’s such a good guy and the guys all love him so much.”

“I try to be there for my teammates,” said Washington. “If somebody needs a vocal guy to say, ‘Let’s get the energy up,’ I’ll do that. But I don’t want to say that I’m always doing that because sometimes I need it and a teammate will do it for me. That’s the beauty of this team.”

Coach Cronin says that Washington’s winning attitude comes from his parents Curtis and Tami.

“He’s just got tremendous character as a person, and if you could meet his parents you would understand why,” Mick said. “His parents are unbelievably great, great people and he’s really lucky.”

“I think my mom could have a movie one day,” Kyle told me. “She’s an amazing person. If you met her you would think she was raised in the most affluent area in the world and she wasn’t. The way she turned out as a person is beautiful. She’s a tenured teacher now and she’s on her way to get her doctorate. And my dad has always taught me to be competitive and always look at life with a glass half-full attitude. So I got it from both of them.”

In retrospect, maybe there is a stat that measures the impact of a team leader’s positive energy.

It’s called win total.

“I literally believe that that stuff is worth wins,” said Cronin.

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Broome Ball

When Bearcats fans get their first look at Cane Broome next year, many will be reminded of former UC star Nick Van Exel. Like “Nick the Quick,” Broome is a speedy lefty point guard with the ability to score in bunches.

“I’ve been coaching for more than 30 years now and coached some pretty good players at some pretty good programs and he is as fast of a player as I’ve ever coached,” said assistant coach Larry Davis. “It’s unbelievable how fast he is with the ball. He’ll be fun to watch. He’s like the wind – you can’t catch him.”

“There’s definitely a comparison to Nick with his ability to be quick and shifty with the ball,” said head coach Mick Cronin. “They are what I would call ‘escape artists.’ Speed is one thing if you’re a track star, but in basketball, it’s being an escape artist with the ball and an illusionist in terms of change of direction. It’s not just pure physical gifts. It’s also craftiness that goes into being an escape artist. He’s a true escape artist with the basketball.

“He’s really going to get Jarron Cumberland and Jacob Evans and guys like that a lot of open shots. Cane and Justin Jenifer together will have lightning speed. I’m looking forward to that.”

 

NCAA Basketball: Sacred Heart at Northwestern

The 6’0” Broome transferred to Cincinnati in April after spending his first two college seasons at Sacred Heart in Connecticut. Last season he was named the Northeast Conference Player of the Year after ranking seventh in the country in scoring at 23.1 points per game to go with 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

“I’m not the biggest guy, but if I get a couple of steps in front of you it’s going to be tough to stop me,” said Broome.

The 22-year-old is practicing with the Bearcats this season and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

“He’s helped me on defense because being a bigger guard, it’s tough to guard smaller guys like that – especially ones that are really fast,” said senior Troy Caupain. “He challenges me every day at practice.”

“That’s the only time that I get to show the coaches what I can do,” said Broome. “I have to show them that I can play here. I haven’t proven anything yet. So practices are really my games.”

“It’s a tremendous advantage to have a guy practicing as talented as Cane,” said Cronin. “He is a basketball savant. Not only does it put a lot of pressure on our guys to defend him every day at practice, but he is constantly trying to help his teammates because he really understands basketball – probably better than any guard I’ve ever coached. He really understands the game at a high level.”

The Hartford, CT native is trying to use his redshirt season to address a couple of weaknesses beginning with his size and strength.

“Shoot, coming in here I was 147 pounds,” Cane told me with a laugh. “I just weighed myself and I’m 163 right now. The added weight has been helping me a lot. I can get bumped by anybody and it doesn’t really affect me anymore.

“I eat a lot but I think my metabolism is why it’s hard to put on weight. My dad was like this when he was my age – he sent me a picture. I sent it right to (strength coach) Mike (Rehfeldt) and said, ‘This is why I’m skinny.’ I get it from him.”

The other shortcoming Cane is working on is…

“Definitely defense,” said Broome. “I’ve learned that it’s more of a team thing. Before I thought you just had to sit down and guard people, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m trying to learn the system and the things you have to do to stay on the court – the things Coach Cronin cares about and the things he doesn’t care about.”

In his two seasons at Sacred Heart, the Pioneers were 27-35 (20-16 in the NEC). One of the biggest reasons that Broome elected to transfer to Cincinnati was the likelihood of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“It was torture because the tournament is what you grow up wanting to play in,” said Broome. “I loved Sacred Heart and it was good while I was there, but I was playing more for myself. When I saw the teams celebrating on Selection Sunday, it was like they all had a hand in that moment. So I wanted to be part of a team that could get there.”

Even though he won’t suit up for the Bearcats in this year’s tournament, Broome is already a big part of the team.

“Cane Broome is a comedian,” said junior Gary Clark. “He is one different character. We’re so much alike in some ways and so different in others. He’s a great guy to be around and everybody loves him. He’s that one guy that’s cool with everyone.”

“I don’t have any family members here, so my teammates became my close friends and family,” said Broome. “At the home games I try to support them and on the road games I try to watch and learn something.”

I asked Broome is there’s anybody in particular that he’s closest to.

“We’re all really close, but Gary is my roommate,” he said.

A mostly-good roommate according to the UC forward.

“I’m still trying to get him to take the trash out, but we’re getting there,” said Clark.

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Another Kick To The Gut

In their first losing season in six years, one thing that has frequently gone right for the Bengals are kicks.

As in frequently wide right.

texans-celebrate-bullock-miss

Given a chance to beat his hometown Houston Texans on Christmas Eve – the team that drafted and then waived him three games into last season – Randy Bullock pushed a 43 yard field goal attempt as time expired allowing Houston to beat Cincinnati 12-10.

“That was exactly what I wanted,” said Bullock. “Unfortunately, I had the opportunity and I just didn’t take advantage of it. That hurts for me and this team. It was incredibly disappointing.

“I felt like I hit it pretty well. The timing felt off a little bit. I jumped a little bit. We were trying to hold it – unfortunately it affected the kick. That’s on me.”

It was the latest frustrating finish in a season filled with them. Facing the NFL’s top-ranked defense in yards allowed, the Bengals were able to drive from their own 15-yard line to the Houston 25 in the final 3:46, leaving five seconds on the clock to attempt a game-winning field goal. Up to that point, Bullock had made all six of his kicks for Cincinnati (3 FG, 3 PAT) since replacing Mike Nugent two weeks ago.

“I thought we were going to win the game,” said defensive end Wallace Gilberry. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.”

“The offense put us in position to win the game and we didn’t make the play there,” said Marvin Lewis. “I feel bad for Randy.”

“He’s been doing a good job the last few weeks since he’s been here,” said cornerback Josh Shaw. “He happened to miss it. It happens. It’s football. We’ve got his back and I’m sure that next time around he’ll make it.”

It seems like a distant memory, but the Bengals opened the season with a fourth quarter comeback, beating the New York Jets 23-22 on a 47-yard field goal by Nugent with :54 seconds remaining. Since then they’ve blown fourth quarter leads to the Broncos, Redskins, Giants, Steelers, and Texans.

“This is probably the sixth or seventh game that we lost by seven points or less,” said wide receiver Brandon LaFell. “Next season we’ve got to find a way to turn those losses into wins. That’s the difference between going to the dance or sitting at home and watching everybody else dance.”

“Last year when I was a rookie we started off 8-0,” said Shaw. “I was like, ‘Whoa, this is what the league is all about.’ I was kind of spoiled last year. But we’ll regroup. This is a good team and we’ve got good coaches. It’s a good organization overall. We have been to the playoffs the last five years before this year and we’ll bounce back.”

Unfortunately, the bounces – and the kicks – haven’t gone their way in 2016.

“I wanted to make that kick regardless of the game scenario or anything like that,” said Bullock. “I have to shake it off and go forward and finish up the season strong against Baltimore.”

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Esiason Calls Bengals Dip “Life In The NFL”

This is my sixth year as the Bengals radio play-by-play announcer and the first time I will not have the opportunity to call a playoff game.

Is it just a one year dip?

They’re asking the same question in Carolina and Arizona. The two teams that met in the NFC Championship Game last year are a combined 10-16-1 this year.

“I think it’s just life in the NFL,” former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason told me this week.

dalton-vs-steelers

Sunday’s 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh was a microcosm of a frustrating season for Cincinnati. It marked the fourth time this year that the Bengals held a fourth quarter lead and did not hold on to win.

“That’s crept up on us all year – having some issues in the second half,” said center Russell Bodine. “You’ve got to play a full 60 minutes in the NFL and we didn’t do that today.”

“We jumped on ‘em early,” said receiver Tyler Boyd. “All we had to do was finish them.”

After scoring on all four of their first half drives and dominating time of possession 17:59 to 12:01, the Bengals were shutout in the second half. Cincinnati finished with 38 yards of offense in the final two quarters including just nine yards in the fourth.

“I don’t think we were as productive running the ball in the second half,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

“It was like they were playing offense in a closet,” said my broadcaster partner Dave Lapham. “There was nothing that was threatening the back end of the Steelers defense. It really caught up with them in the second half when the running game was contained a little bit better.”

“Man, it’s so rough to lose like that,” said Boyd.

The absence of A.J. Green on Sunday eliminated the Bengals’ best deep threat. A 25-yard pass to Brandon LaFell was Cincinnati’s only play of 20-or-more yards while the Steelers had six passing plays of 20-plus.

After throwing 25 touchdown passes in his first 12 games last season, Dalton has 16 TD passes with two games remaining this year. But Esiason says that Dalton’s stats are deceiving.

“I think Andy’s had a really good year despite the free agent defections of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, the injuries to Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green, and the problems they’ve had on the offensive line in pass protection,” Boomer told me. “I think he’s standing in there strong, he’s a tough kid, he’s everything you want in a quarterback in the NFL, and next year should be another year with significant expectations.

“When you look at all of the circumstances surrounding the team – on top of losing three coordinators to become head coaches in other cities – you realize that the Bengals have been poached and next year hopefully they’ll add a couple of draft picks and maybe a couple of free agents and get right back to where they belong.”

erickson-vs-steelers

The Bengals should benefit from all the snaps going to Boyd and fellow rookie wide receivers Alex Erickson and Cody Core.

“They’ll be good players in the future, but right now there’s a learning curve and unfortunately it impacts the quarterback in a negative light,” said Esiason. “I think about the wide receivers that I played with when they were rookies like Wayne Chrebet in New York. He was a good rookie but he turned out to be a great player, and hopefully one of these rookies will turn out to be that – a good rookie who will turn out to be a great player and a nice piece of the offense next year. When they come back next year they’re going to be totally different because they’ll know all the vocabulary, they’ll know exactly what their assignments are, and Andy will feel more comfortable with them in really high anxiety situations.”

Boyd expected to be heading to the playoffs as a rookie when he was selected in the second round by the Bengals this year. Instead, his first season will end on New Year’s Day against Baltimore.

“Coming into this organization, I felt like I was going to fill the void of the guys that departed,” said Boyd. “I’m pretty upset because I wanted to continue to play.”

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Streak Continues For Dominant D

The Bengals extended their streak to four games with Sunday’s 23-10 win in Cleveland.

I’m obviously not referring to a winning streak – which stands at two – but their streak of holding the opponent to less than 20 points.

vontaze-at-cleveland

Buffalo, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cleveland have managed to score 16, 19, 14, and 10 points against the Bengals during that stretch. And in the Baltimore game, Justin Tucker hit three field goals from at least 52 yards.

“They’re doing a tremendous job on defense – they really are,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham.

Cleveland managed to run for 169 yards, including 113 on 10 carries by Isaiah Crowell, but Robert Griffin III threw for a meager 104 yards and finished with a passer rating of 38.4.

“They’re not giving up the big play,” said Lapham. “They got gashed in the running game a little bit when Crowell hit them for a 42 yard run, but passing plays are not going over their head. They gave up eight touchdown passes of 20 yards or more in the first half of the season and none since.”

It wasn’t for a lack of trying by Hue Jackson.

Cleveland attempted deep passes to Corey Coleman on each of its first three possessions that fell incomplete.

“I thought the secondary really did a good job of staying on top of the routes,” said Marvin Lewis. “They tried a lot of vertical throws early in the game and I thought our guys did a good job of staying on top.”

“Paulie G (defensive coordinator Paul Guenther) called a great game and we played together as a team,” said cornerback Adam Jones.

And when Hue Jackson went to his bag of tricks in the second quarter and attempted a flea flicker from his own 2-yard-line, three Bengals surrounded the intended receiver Terrelle Pryor and George Iloka came away with the interception.

“We knew coming off of a bye that they would do that type of thing,” said linebacker Karlos Dansby. “We knew they would throw some different things at us and try to get us off balance before going to their bread and butter. That’s what they tried to do today.

“We over-communicated and made sure everybody was on the same page. Everybody was hearing the same language and talking the same language and we played fast. We trusted everything that we’ve been practicing for the last couple of weeks.”

The Browns did not get on the scoreboard until Cincinnati had a 20-0 lead in the third quarter.

“I think that’s been the common theme over the last two games,” said offensive tackle Eric Winston. “Getting up two scores and letting our defense go eat.”

“They got a touchdown late, but the game was pretty much over at the time,” said defensive tackle Domata Peko.

dunlap-in-snow

In the first half of the season, Cincinnati allowed an average of 23.6 points a game. In the five games since the bye, that’s dropped by a touchdown per game to 16.0. For the season, the Bengals rank 11th in the NFL in points allowed at 20.7 per game.

“We’re gonna continue to grind,” said Dansby. “We’re just going to keep running our race and let the chips fall where they may.”

“We just started a little late this year,” said Jones.

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A Leg Up On The Competition

The Bengals lost by a foot on Sunday.

The one attached to the right leg of Justin Tucker.

justin-tucker

Baltimore’s kicker drilled four field goals, including blasts from 52, 54, and 57 yards in the Ravens’ 19-14 win

“He’s money every time,” said Dre Kirkpatrick. “How the heck do you stop that? How do you even prepare for that?”

Tucker’s performance underscored the value of having an elite kicker.

While Mike Nugent’s recent woes continued on Sunday with another missed extra point – his third in a row over the past two weeks – Tucker has not missed a kick all season. He’s 27-for-27 on field goal attempts and 15-for-15 on extra points.

“He’s as much better than other kickers in the league as Tiger Woods was in comparison to other golfers when he was in his prime,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “Nobody can touch the guy.”

Tucker has made seven field goals of at least 50 yards this season and his ability to hit from long range was a major factor on Sunday. The Ravens managed to score nine points on drives that ended at the Cincinnati 34, 36, and 39 yard lines.

“I’ve never seen something like that,” said Carlos Dunlap. “We hold them to the 40 (yard line) and they’re in field goal range?

“If it was any other kicker it probably would have been a different ballgame.”

“You get the ball at the 25 (after a touchback), so if they get a couple of first downs they’re just about in field goal range,” said Adam Jones.

In contrast, when the Bengals drove to the Baltimore 38 yard line on their opening drive of the second half, they elected to punt.

“He changes the game,” said Lapham. “When you’re in the two minute drill at the end of the half or the game, you can approach it so much differently.”

Recent struggles aside, Mike Nugent has been a good NFL kicker for 12 years. He’s made 81% of his career field goal attempts to rank as the 36th most-accurate kicker in history. But Nugent has never made more than four field goals from 50-plus yards in a season. Tucker made three in the first half on Sunday. His range essentially means that the Ravens need one fewer first down on each of their drives to be in field goal range in comparison to most NFL teams.

“That’s what he’s paid to do and he does an unbelievable job,” said Rex Burkhead. “He’s a big weapon for them.”

“We have the best kicker in the world, hands down,” said Ravens cornerback Tavon Young. “We have so much confidence in him when he takes the field no matter where it’s from. Nothing more to be said about him, he’s the best.”

“They’ve got a blessing over there,” said Kirkpatrick. “He’s very special.”

How special?

Following the game, a reporter asked Tucker what he thought his range was under Sunday’s field conditions.

“About 70-75 yards,” he said.

He wasn’t joking.

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