Wall-to-wall basketball took center stage at John Gray High School on Monday, as four highly touted college games played out in the inaugural Cayman Islands Classic. The first act of the three-day tournament was an all-day affair, with the first game starting at noon and the last game – featuring No. 12 Cincinnati, the only ranked team in the field – tipping off at 7:30 p.m.
The listed attendance for the four games was just shy of 4,000 people, and the fans got a taste of the athleticism and skill involved in high-level college basketball. Two of the games were decided by less than 10 points, but there were no last-minute buzzer-beating shots.
Iowa and Louisiana tangled in the first game, and the two teams were locked in a taut, defensive struggle for much of the first half. Louisiana held Iowa without a field goal for nine minutes of the first half and made a 21-1 run to gather a 37-17 lead at halftime. The Hawkeyes played better in the second half, but they never made it within eight points and fell to an 80-71 loss in the tournament opener.
“You always have to teach when you don’t play well,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery in the moments after the loss.
“You can’t play the blame game when your team doesn’t play well. You have to take responsibility as a coach when your team loses. Yes, hold them accountable, but explain what didn’t you do. Don’t scream at them. What didn’t you do? What could you have done differently?”
The next game, Wyoming vs. South Dakota State, took on the same urgency as the opener. The Wyoming Cowboys led by just one point with 25 seconds left in the first half, but senior forward Alan Herndon dunked with one second left to give the Cowboys a 27-24 lead at halftime.
The second half went back and forth, and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits took a 52-50 lead with 9:07 remaining in the game. Wyoming senior Hayden Dalton hit a jump shot to put Wyoming ahead for good at 58-57 with 7:03 left on the clock. Dalton finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, and South Dakota State star Mike Daum shot just 2-for-12 en route to scoring 10 points for the Jackrabbits in the losing effort. The final score was 77-65 to Wyoming.
The third game, featuring Richmond and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, produced one of the day’s most dominant performances. Richmond Spiders freshman Grant Golden shot 11-for-19 from the field and scored 26 points in a 63-50 victory over the UAB Blazers. UAB managed to hit just 16 shots as a team during this game, and only two players – William Lee and Zack Bryant – scored in double figures.
Richmond was dominant, scoring the game’s first seven points, and UAB would never make it closer than a three-point deficit for the rest of the game. Richmond led just 13-10 with 13:43 left to play in the half, but the Spiders went on a 23-10 run to lead 36-20 at halftime. UAB shot even worse in the second half – 29.6 percent compared to 38.1 in the first half – and never really challenged down the stretch.
Cincinnati, the most celebrated team in the field, lived up to its billing in the tournament’s nightcap. The Bearcats carved out a 15-14 lead over the Buffalo Bulls in the game’s opening minutes and then went on a 12-0 run to take command. Buffalo traded baskets with Cincinnati for the rest of the half, and the Bearcats went into the game’s intermission with a 39-26 cushion.
Buffalo upped its game in the second half, and the Bulls managed to outscore Cincinnati 41-34 after halftime. Buffalo even closed to within four points in the game’s final minute, but Cincinnati pulled away down the stretch to earn a 73-67 win. Forward Gary Clark led the way for Cincinnati, scoring 24 points and hauling down 14 rebounds. Buffalo guard C.J. Massinburg scored 29 points in the loss.
The teams were back on the court for more action Tuesday, with the Bearcats taking on the Spiders and the Ragin’ Cajuns facing off against the Cowboys in the semifinals, and the Hawkeyes battling it out with the Jackrabbits and the Blazers playing the Bulls in the consolation bracket. The Jackrabbits overcame the Hawkeyes 80-72, but the other games occurred too close to press time Tuesday for results to be known.
The tournament will conclude on Wednesday, with the third-place game starting at 5 p.m. and the championship playing out at 7:30 p.m.