CINCINNATI (AP) — Wright State wasn’t going let any of Cincinnati’s top scorers have their way, instead forcing someone else to become the leader. JaQuon Parker sensed it would have to be him.
Parker scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half Saturday, and No. 11 Cincinnati remained unbeaten by overcoming another poor start for a 68-58 victory over the Raiders.
The Bearcats improved to 12-0 for the eighth time in school history and the second time in three seasons. Cincinnati won its first 15 games in 2010-11.
For the second game in a row, the Bearcats struggled in half-court offense and scored only 22 points in the first half. Parker scored Cincinnati’s first eight in the second half, sparking a 23-6 run that put the Bearcats in control. The 21 points matched his season high.
Wright State (8-4) set its defense to prevent Sean Kilpatrick and point guard Cashmere Wright — the Bearcats’ top two threats — from getting open shots. Parker saw the Raiders trying to prevent Kilpatrick from getting the ball and figured somebody else had to take advantage of the openings.
“I kind of sensed that,” Parker said. “I saw they were basically denying SK the whole game. That made the driving lanes easier for us.”
When Parker’s shots started falling, he got confidence and took more of them.
“When you’re feeling like that, it’s kind of crazy,” said Parker, who finished 8 of 15 from the field. “You don’t want to force nothing. You want to take good shots for all of them to fall.”
Wright State’s strategy was to force one of Cincinnati’s complementary scorers to step up.
“We were going to make other guys beat us than Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick,” coach Billy Donlon said. “JaQuon Parker stepped up. He big-bodied our guards down the lane. He was the difference. He stepped up and won them the game.”
Titus Rubles added 11 points and nine rebounds. Justin Jackson had nine points, seven rebounds and two of Cincinnati’s 10 blocked shots.
Wright State got 14 points from Jerran Young and 13 from J.T. Yoho.
The Bearcats have won all nine games in the series, including a 78-58 victory at Wright State last season.
Cincinnati was coming off a 60-45 win over crosstown rival Xavier on Wednesday, an emotional game that often leaves both teams a little flat for the next one. On Xavier’s campus 2 miles away, the Musketeers lost to Wofford 56-55 on Saturday afternoon. Cincinnati came out flat and found itself trailing 5-4 after 5 minutes.
Coach Mick Cronin had warned his team about a letdown.
“We were saying how some of the high-major teams were beat by the mid-majors,” Rubles said. “We’ve seen it for ourselves, so we don’t want to be one of them. He did bring it up, but he didn’t have to remind us. We’ve seen that, and we don’t want to be one of those teams.”
Still, Cincinnati let Wright State make it a game.
The Bearcats opened only 2 for 10 from the field with a pair of turnovers. Wright State missed its first 10 shots, getting its first five points on free throws. The Raiders’ first field goal came on Cole Darling’s 3-pointer with 13 minutes left in the half.
The Raiders led 15-11 after the first 11 minutes despite going 3 of 17 from the field. They didn’t turn the ball over against Cincinnati’s defense, which couldn’t get into its full-court pressure. At one point, Cronin stomped his right foot on the floor and yelled at a player, “Wake up!”
He was mostly upset with the forced shots.
“We’re settling for tough shots,” Cronin said. “It’s fool’s gold at the end of the day. You’re not going to beat quality teams unless you get quality shots out of your offense. At times this year, we’ve made tough shots, but we can’t rely on that.”
Young’s driving layup put Wright State ahead 28-22 at halftime, another poor start for Cincinnati. The Bearcats trailed Xavier 24-22 at halftime on Wednesday, part of a recent trend of struggling to make shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Tavares Sledge opened the second half with a driving basket that gave Wright State a 30-22 lead, the Raiders’ biggest of the game. Parker asserted himself and took control at that point, sending Cincinnati ahead to stay.
Parker had a three-point play, a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup for an eight-point run that tied it. He scored 15 points overall during the 23-6 spurt that opened the second half and gave the Bearcats a 45-34 lead.
Wright State never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.