TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Troy Caupain came up big for Cincinnati in the final minute and helped them rally for a big win.
Caupain converted a tying three-point play with 39 seconds remaining and then made a 16-foot jumper with 4.4 left to give No. 14 Cincinnati a 57-55 victory over Tulsa on Wednesday night.
The senior guard’s free throw tied the score at 55-all, completing the Bearcats’ comeback from an 11-point deficit with about 6 minutes to go in the second half. Tulsa’s Pat Birt then had his entry pass stolen and Caupain pulled up for the game-winner.
“When you have a guy who has been through the wars like him, you give him the ball and let him create the offense,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “For 33 minutes we got outscrapped, outfought, outdefended. The last six or seven minutes we dug in, got stops, got steals and got out on the breaks and got some layups.”
Caupain finished with 15 points for the Bearcats (20-2, 9-0 American Athletic Conference). Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans scored 10 each, and Gary Clark added nine points and 11 rebounds.
“Coach was ripping us for not getting stops and rebounds, but we stepped it up in the last six minutes,” Caupain said. “On the last play, my defender backed up to stop the drive and I just took the shot. I was glad to see that one go in.”
Jaleel Wheeler scored 13 points to lead Tulsa (12-9, 6-3). Junior Etou and Martins Igbanu had 10 each and T.K. Edogi added eight points and 13 rebounds.
Tulsa led 55-52 and had Sterling Taplin — an 83-percent free-throw shooter — at the line, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 51 seconds to go.
The Golden Hurricane led the vast majority of the game before collapsing with uncertain offense, bad shots and several of its 16 turnovers in the final minutes.
“We had those turnovers,” Tulsa coach Frank Hath said. “One was when we were trying to throw it in as a bounce pass and we threw it right to them. There were efforts to throw it in there but we missed a couple buckets.”
Trailing 36-32 early in the second half, Tulsa went on a 20-5 run to lead 52-41 with 6:01 left. Washington stopped the run with two free throws and a basket. Evans hit a jumper in traffic and a 3-pointer to pull the Bearcats to 54-50 with 2:47 left.
Tulsa jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first four minutes and led 19-12 after a vicious dunk by Edogi, following which he was called for a technical for taunting. Wheeler blocked a 3-pointer by Kevin Johnson and drove for a layup to give Tulsa a 25-16 edge with 6:29 left.
Caupain made two 3s to fuel a 12-0 Bearcat run that gave Cincinnati its first lead at 28-27 and the teams were knotted at 30 at the half. The Bearcats made four fewer field goals but made 12 of 16 free throws to 6 of 9 for Tulsa.
Tulsa finished with a 38-28 edge in rebounding and outshot the nation’s second-ranked field-goal percentage defense team 40 percent to 35.3 percent.
As much as Cincinnati pulled a rabbit out of its hat over the final two minutes, it was a heartbreaking setback for Tulsa, which didn’t score in the final 1:19 and saw its chances for getting into the AAC race take a huge setback.
“Everything has to go well for you to win a game against a team with the caliber of Cincinnati,” Haith said. “They are one of the best defensive teams in the country. I’m proud of how we competed. I think Cincinnati is a terrific team.”
Tulsa stopped attacking and scored just three points in the final 6:02.
“We had six or seven steals in the final six minutes and that was the difference in the game,” Cronin said.
Edogi’s first-half dunk that gave Tulsa a 19-12 lead was spectacular, but getting whistled for a technical foul was a momentum killer. He had 10 first-half rebounds and led all players with 13 for the game.
Cincinnati looks to extend its 21-game home winning streak Saturday against UConn.
Tulsa concludes a three-game home stand against second-place SMU on Saturday.