Cincinnati 69, Rutgers 68

Lance Stephenson picked up the hardware, then helped Cincinnati
finally get a Big East tournament win.

The New York native was selected the conference’s Rookie of the
Year on Tuesday afternoon. About 6 hours later, he backed up the
choice by making the game-deciding free throw with 1.8 seconds to
play and the Bearcats beat Rutgers 69-68 in the opening round.

“This is the best conference in college basketball, and I just
wanted to get everybody ready and everybody prepared in the gym so
we could win this game,” said Stephenson, who finished with 13
points – 10 in a 4-minute span of the second half – nine rebounds
and five assists.

The 11th-seeded Bearcats (17-14) entered 0-3 all-time in the
conference tournament. Now they will face sixth-seeded Louisville,
the defending champion, in the second round.

“We got a one-point blowout tonight and we’re proud of it,”
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We did a great job offensively
taking care of the basketball. If we get shots off, we’re going to
rebound. We needed to get this win so we have a chance to play
Louisville again tomorrow night, a team we lost a tough game
against at Freedom Hall earlier this season.”

Mike Rosario had 26 points to lead the Scarlet Knights (15-17),
who end the season losing five of six.

“This has been a team all year long with an unbelievable amount
of heart,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. “We knew this would be a
game that goes down to the wire.”

The Bearcats seemed to have the game in hand when a 15-2 run
gave them a 62-54 lead with 3:56 left. Cincinnati was ahead 65-59
with 44 seconds to go, but Rutgers, playing without any timeouts,
managed to tie it at 68 on a a 3-pointer by Rosario with 15 seconds
to play.

“I thought our guys were phenomenal the last 2 minutes of the
game,” Hill said. “You talk about execution, no timeouts left,
they did everything they were supposed to do offensively and
defensively. That’s what got us into the game and gave us a chance
to win.

“They put themselves in position to win the game and really
deserved a shot to come away with a great win in the Garden. I wish
we could have gotten it to overtime and given them 5 more minutes,
they were playing really well.”

Stephenson ended any thoughts of overtime when he drove to the
hoop and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left. He made the first free
throw, then intentionally missed the second, not leaving Rutgers
with enough time to get off a good shot.

“I learned early in the season against Xavier not to settle for
the jump shot, so I did what I did against UConn, went hard and got
a foul,” Stephenson said of his winning free throws against the
Huskies with less than a second left on Dec. 30.

“I’m just wanting to play hard and win the game, that’s all I’m
trying to do, win the game. I knew I was going to make the first
free throw, I had confidence in myself. I knew I was going to make
the first one, so I could miss the second and make it a tougher
shot. That was big-time, and that was why I came to Cincinnati, to
change the program around and play hard and just win games.”