CINCINNATI -- Fifth Third Arena smelled like a new sedan that had just rolled off the lot on Wednesday night. The video board hovered over mid-court like an alien mothership poised to invade. The Bearcats fans, all dressed in white, packed their new $87-million palace to witness something nobody had since 1920: The Ohio State Buckeyes playing a regular-season game in Cincinnati.
For much of the night, however, the 12,012 fans in attendance hid their eyes. The Bearcats lost 64-56 in a game that was anything but pretty. For all its modern amenities, 360-degree concourses and exclusive courtside lounges, the 20-month renovation of Fifth Third Arena couldn't spruce up what transpired on the court.
Aside from one late second-half flourish, the Bearcats couldn't buy a basket.
UC shot 14 percent in the first half and 27 percent for the game. They finished the night just 6-for-26 from 3-point range.
That the final margin was within 10 points is a credit to the Bearcats' defense, but what Mick Cronin chose to focus on afterwards was the fact that Ohio State shot 55 percent in the second half. In his mind, that was the difference. Cronin isn't a luxury box kind of coach.
"You can't give up layups and free throws, especially in a game like this where you are struggling on offense," Cronin said. "We don't have enough firepower. I know what we are capable of, and we're capable of being much better on defense. In a slugfest, you can't give up layups."
For the first 25 minutes of the game, there wasn't much at all to cheer about from a Bearcat's perspective. Justin Jenifer's 3-pointer one minute into the game was the first points scored in the new arena. However, over the remaining 19 minutes of the first half, UC went 3-for-28, 1-for-11 from 3-point range. Ohio State led 27-18 at halftime, and fans in the new Fifth Third Arena were reaching for the remote.
The first half hardly was a thing of beauty for either team. Five minutes in, the Bearcats and Buckeyes were a combined 2-for-14 shooting with four turnovers.
Making matters worse for UC, top returning scorer Jarron Cumberland picked up his second foul setting a lazy screen with 10:06 left in the first half and was relegated to the bench for all but four minutes of the half. Cumberland finished with a team-leading 22 points before fouling out.
"I picked up two dumb fouls," Cumberland said. "I could've helped them a lot in the first half. I know a lot of teams are going to key on me. It hurts a lot. I don't like losing, period, whether it's the first game or not."
The Buckeyes began the second half with an 11-4 run, and led by as many as 11 points early in the second half. The Bearcats held OSU without a field goal for more than four minutes to stay in the game. The Buckeyes expanded their lead to 55-39 with 5:23 left. The Bearcats fought back to within four points in the final minute but could not complete the comeback.
"We don't guard each other that poorly in practice," Cronin lamented.
The Bearcats and Buckeyes had not played in the regular season since 1921, but these two programs, located about 120 miles apart, don't require familiarity to breed contempt. The boos rained down on coach Chris Holtmann's Buckeyes when they took the court for pregame warmups on Wednesday night. They would quiet the crowd soon after.
Both teams are in transition this season. The Bearcats lost established stars Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, and Kyle Washington from last season. The Buckeyes lost go-to players Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate and have six newcomers including four freshmen.
With so many new faces on both rosters, there was plenty of uncertainty heading into Wednesday's game. However, early on it was the Buckeyes who seemed more unsure of themselves in a hostile environment. OSU didn't score until 16:20 remained in the first half.
Wednesday's game was the first regular-season contest at Fifth Third Arena since it underwent an extensive renovation and modernization, one that was long overdue for the facility that opened in 1989. The Bearcats played last season at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University.
While the loss took some of the shine off the evening, a new era has begun for the UC program. The Bearcats clearly are in retooling mode this season, but the new Fifth Third Arena should help -- certainly from a recruiting standpoint.
The atmosphere on Wednesday night was unlike anything typically seen at the old Fifth Third Arena, even when things were going well.
"I expected a good environment," Cumberland said. "It was loud. Some of the stuff coach called, I couldn't hear."
There was a great deal of pomp and circumstance surrounding one of the most anticipated season openers in UC basketball history. There even was a pregame dunk by Bearcats' legend Kenyon Martin to christen their new home. It was one of few balls that found the basket for the Bearcats on Wednesday.
Cumberland had seven made field goals. No other Bearcats player had more than three. Cane Broome was 1-for-10 shooting. Tre Scott, making his first career start, scored eight points, second on the team.
"It's a process," Cronin said. "Tre Scott is way better than he was tonight. It's his first start of his college career. He's over-hyped up playing against a good team. Look, the guys on the team are the guys on the team."
The Bearcats now have lost three straight games to the Buckeyes, who they haven't beaten since the 1962 NCAA championship game. UC is among six schools to have reached eight straight NCAA Tournaments, but it's a long road to the ninth.
"This environment tonight was beyond even what we anticipated," Holtmann said. "It was tremendous. Their fans gave them a big lift. Mick's team is a lot like ours, with a lot of new faces. They are so consistent with how hard they play. They missed some shots they normally make."