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A Cincinnati Bearcats-Monmouth Hawks hardwood matchup didn't figure to offer the same level of intrigue and hype as UC's recent high-profile clashes with Arkansas, Illinois, and even Georgia earlier in November.
At least it didn't initially seem like the game would be intriguing – until it was in the latter stages Saturday at Fifth Third Arena and the Bearcats laboring mightily to remain among the ranks of college basketball's one-loss teams.
In the end, UC's labors produced its second consecutive loss – a first in the tenure of head coach Wes Miller – as the Bearcats (5-2) fell to Monmouth (5-1), 61-59.
With many students away on break and a sleepy, post-Thanksgiving atmosphere inside Fifth Third Arena, UC had to become its own energy source against Monmouth. There wasn't nearly enough energy about UC to salvage the game in convincing fashion, though.
The game was a letdown for a Bearcats program that seemed to take big strides at the Hall of Fame Classic tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, which was the site of an upset win over No. 14 Illinois and a six-point loss to No. 13 Arkansas.
On Saturday, UC looked to be cruising early in the second half as it amassed a a game-high 12 point lead after closing the first half on a strong run.
But Monmouth, of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, chipped away and ended up leading for final seven-plus minutes.
With UC trailing by two points in the closing seconds, Hayden Koval was Cincinnati's last hope during two separate sequences.
First, Koval missed back-to-back free-throws after he went to the line with 4.1 second to play.
Then, after UC was gifted a final possession when Monmouth threw away an inbounds pass one second remaining, Miller drew up a lob play for Koval.
But the play design was flawed: Miller indicated in post-game remarks he might have been unclear about how much time was remaining after officials reviewed Monmouth's errant inbound and reset the game clock from ".1" to "1.0."
The play also didn't result in a shot. The pass to Koval was broken up and didn't reach its intended target.
Miller said he didn't have a play design for .1 seconds remaining in the game. He was forced to draw up a play the team had never practiced, and it showed.
Plenty went wrong prior to the closing seconds and the loss wasn't reducible to missteps by any one player. UC shot just 37.7% from the floor in the game and was held scoreless over the final 63 seconds.
The Bearcats were also just 14.3% from 3-point territory and missed 11 free-throws (9-of-20).
Monmouth graduate guard Marcus McClary went for a game-high 18 points while graduate Hawks guard Shavar Reynolds Jr. added 14 points.
Graduate forward Walker Miller, Wes Miller's younger brother and Monmouth player, went for 13 points in upsetting the Bearcats.
UC was led by junior guard David DeJulius' 13 points.
"I didn't have us prepared for how to guard them, which is the thing I'm most frustrated with," Wes Miller said afterward. "Didn't have us prepared on how to attack them with their changing defenses. I thought as the game wore on, it got more and more frustrating to us as a group. It took us more and more away from who we are. Early on, I thought we got good shots. They just didn't, kinda, drop ... I've got to have us prepared for every game. I didn't have us prepared tonight and that's on me.
"Listen, I'm not pleased with how we played. I'm not pleased with how we handled the tie game in the second half but I think we've got to take a step back and give some credit to Monmouth.
"When it's all said and done, I'm happy as heck for my brother. I'm really proud of the player he's become and we're a difficult matchup for him with all of our size. We tried to make it really tough for him and I thought he did a nice job. I am happy for him as mad as I am for us."
The Bearcats opened up the game-high 12-point lead in the early moments of the second half behind baskets from junior guard Mika Adams-Woods and graduate forward Abdul Ado.
In spite of the 12-point deficit, Monmouth pulled even with UC by the 9:02 mark in the second half as a McClary bucked tied the contest at 52.
McClary's next basket – a 3-pointer – put Monmouth ahead, 55-52, with 7:28 to play.
Monmouth didn't look back.
The Bearcats closed the first half on a 19-6 run to take a 36-28 lead into intermission but managed just seven points during the final 9:57 on Saturday.
DeJulius had UC's final field goal, which cut its deficit to 61-59 and ended up being the final score of the contest.
The defeat marked the first losing streak of the Miller era after the Bearcats' Tuesday loss to Arkansas.
Wes Miller said he didn't think about whether or not Tuesday's loss to the Razorbacks resulted in Saturday's imperfect showing.
"I love our kids. I think they're bought in," Wes Miller said. "I think they want to be good and I didn't do a good enough job getting them prepared to win this one."
The Bearcats return to action Wednesday at Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday at Millett Hall in Oxford, Ohio.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: UC Bearcats drop consecutive games for the first time under Wes Miller