After hitting a jumper that helped Cincinnati build a 12-point lead before halftime, Sean Kilpatrick looked up in the stands and saw a familiar face: Former UConn star – and Bearcat-killer – Kemba Walker, now in his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats.
“When I hit a three in the first half, he looked at me and gave me a little wink,” Kilpatrick told me. “He’s a New York guy like me, and having him at the game was big – especially in the middle of the NBA season. He’s a great player and I’m happy that I got to see him.”
The last time that Kilpatrick saw Walker, the Connecticut guard ended UC’s season by scoring 33 points in the Huskies 69-58 win over the Bearcats in last year’s NCAA Tournament. But on Wednesday night in Storrs, CT, Sean played the hero by drilling a 3-point shot with 2.5 seconds remaining to give Cincinnati a thrilling 70-67 win.
“The last time that I hit a game-winning buzzer beater was at White Plains (High School),” said Kilpatrick. “This one was big and I’m happy that I got the win for the team.”
The sophomore guard could have clinched the win much earlier at the free throw line, but twice missed the front end of one-and-one foul shooting opportunities in the final 1:30.
“It would have been a tragic loss,” said head coach Mick Cronin. “We started missing free throws when we were up by eight with our best foul shooters getting fouled.”
“That rim did me dirty,” said Kilpatrick. “The ball was going in and it rolled out. Coach Cronin said, ‘Don’t worry – just run back on defense.’”
But while Sean was hustling back to guard Jeremy Lamb, the Huskies’ leading scorer didn’t get the ball down the stretch. Instead, it was UConn point guard Shabazz Napier burying three clutch treys, with the last one tying the score with 9.5 seconds to go.
“When he hit that shot, I just rolled my eyes and thought, ‘Oh no, not again,’” said Kilpatrick. “When I looked up the scoreboard and saw that it was tied, I was like, ‘Yo! We have got to do something.’”
Sean took matters into his own hands. After catching the inbounds pass from JaQuon Parker, Kilpatrick dribbled into the front court, pulled up at the three point line, and calmly sank the game-winner.
“I was going to drive and try to get fouled, but once I saw my man close the lane, I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve got to take the shot,’” Kilpatrick told me. “It was plain to see that it was up to me to take the shot, so I took it.”
And he made it, giving the Bearcats their seventh consecutive Big East road win, and their second over a Top 15 team in the last ten days.
“They have a great team full of All-Americans, a Hall of Fame coach, and it was a sold-out arena,” said Coach Cronin. “When you’re able to come in here and get a win, people are going to stand up and take notice. That’s what our players want. They want to be a ranked team whether they say it or not. They want to be a team to be reckoned with, and they want people to respect them as individuals. To do that, these are the type of games that you have to win.”
“I hope it opened some eyes, but you can’t really worry about that,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s all about the Bearcats.”
Walker was clearly impressed. As Kilpatrick walked toward UC’s team bus after the game, Kemba was waiting by the exit to congratulate Sean and exchange phone numbers.
I asked him what he thought of Kilpatrick’s dramatic shot.
“I was mad as hell,” said Walker. “But he’s my guy so it’s all good. He played good, man.”
It was great to see former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield in attendance at Connecticut on Wednesday. The former UC point guard who helped lead the ‘Cats to their last Sweet 16 appearance in 2001 is still playing professionally in Japan.
Come out and join us for the Mick Cronin radio show on Thursday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn. If you can’t make it, I hope you’ll tune in on 700 WLW.
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