CINCINNATI (AP) — Sean Kilpatrick scored a season-high 34 points in his final home game, and a trio of senior starters steadied No. 15 Cincinnati to a 97-84 victory over No. 20 Memphis on Thursday night that left the American Athletic Conference race tied with a game to go.
The Bearcats (25-5, 14-3 AAC) remained tied atop the first-year league with No. 11 Louisville. The Cardinals won 84-71 at No. 18 Southern Methodist on Wednesday night and finish at home against No. 19 Connecticut. The Bearcats close the regular season at Rutgers.
With a chance to break the race open, the Tigers (22-8, 11-6) fell apart in the opening minutes and never fully recovered. Cincinnati’s seniors kept the Bearcats ahead the whole game.
Kilpatrick led the way in his final home game at the school where he will end up as the No. 2 all-time scorer behind Oscar Robertson. Forward Titus Rubles had a career-high 24 points, and forward Justin Jackson added 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Bearcats piled up a season-high points for an AAC game. It was the second-most points Memphis had allowed all season.
Joe Jackson scored 21 points for Memphis, which turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, cut a 14-point deficit to one early in the second half and got overpowered down the stretch.
Kilpatrick and Jackson used their shirts to wipe tears from their eyes as they were honored at midcourt for senior night before the game. They helped the Bearcats pull away early.
Cincinnati’s biggest downfall in the last two losses — 33 turnovers. The Bearcats worked on making good decisions under pressure during practice the last few days, and were spot-on when the game began.
The Bearcats didn’t turn the ball over during an opening 18-4 run. Jackson had eight points and four rebounds in the spurt, which was set up by the Bearcats’ tight defense. Memphis had eight turnovers and went 2 of 7 from the field in the first 8 minutes.
Cincinnati’s poor free throw shooting kept it close. The Bearcats went only 4 of 10 from the line in the first half, while Memphis made all six of its free throws.
Kilpatrick hit a 3-pointer, but Michael Dixon Jr. matched it with 4 seconds left, cutting Cincinnati’s halftime lead to 38-32.
Jackson had a driving layup, and Chris Crawford hit another 3 that cut it to 38-37. Cincinnati then lost Jackson, who was fouled while driving to the basket, doubled over in pain and left the court with his right arm tucked under him. Jackson returned a few minutes later with a trainer rubbing the back of his shoulder and arm.
That’s when Cincinnati’s three senior starters took over. Kilpatrick, Jackson and Rubles combined for 12 points during a 15-3 run that rebuilt the lead to 58-45. The lead eventually reached 18 points before Cincinnati closed it out.