CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was hoping his No. 22 Bearcats would be challenged before they went to Las Vegas for the weekend.
He got his wish Tuesday night against Campbell, which cut a 25-point second-half deficit to 11 before the Bearcats regained their composure and pulled away for a 91-72 win.
“We needed to play against that,” said Cronin, whose team won its first three games by an average of almost 40 points. “Things have been too easy. We regrouped and did what we had to do.”
Cashmere Wright scored a career-high 28 points, Jaquon Parker set a season high with 21 points, and Sean Kilpatrick added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Bearcats (4-0), who never trailed and led by as many as 25 in the Global Sports Invitational.
Cincinnati is scheduled to play its first road game Friday against Iowa State as the GSI continues in Las Vegas.
Darren White, who came in leading the Big South Conference with 25.5 points per game, bounced back from scoring just three in the first half to finish with 22 for Campbell (2-3).
Trey Freeman scored a season-high 17 for the Fighting Camels, the preseason favorite in the Big South’s North Division, while Darian Hooker added 13 and Reco McCarter finished with 10. Campbell shot a blistering 63 percent from the field in the second half (17-of-27), which Wright and Parker both attributed to a letdown by Cincinnati.
“We had a comfortable lead,” Wright said. “We just got caught up in the moment of the game. They shot 63 percent in the second half. (Cronin) said if we take that to Vegas, we’re not going to win.”
“I know we didn’t take them too seriously the whole game,” Parker added.
The Bearcats dominated inside, outrebounding Campbell 50-28 and finishing with nine blocks to Campbell’s two. They limited the Camels to 35.3 percent shooting (12-of-34) in the first half, efforts that impressed Campbell coach Robbie Laing.
“I think the obvious difference in the game was the rebounding,” Lainge said. “That was the most imposing defensive team we’ve played. We weren’t tied together like we needed to be at the beginning. They’re a little bigger than us, and we weren’t the cohesive unit we needed to be early in the game. Cincinnati sat on top of us defensively. They smothered us. We couldn’t reverse the ball, and they forced us into playing one-on-one, and they’re too long for us to convert many one-on-ones.”
But Cincinnati continued to struggle with free throws. The Bearcats, who were shooting 53.3 percent (40 of 75) from the line coming in, went 18 of 34 (52.9 percent) in the first game between the two teams despite spending extra time on it in practice.
“We’ve got to stay in the gym,” Wright said. “It’s got to pay off. The amount of time we spend shooting free throws has got to pay off.”
Wright, whose previous career high was 25 in a 101-70 win over Radford last Dec. 17, scored 13 and Parker added 11 to lead Cincinnati to a 46-28 halftime lead.
Cincinnati never trailed after Wright made the first of two consecutive 3-pointers to snap a 2-2 tie with 17:30 left in the first half.
Parker gave Cincinnati a 21-point lead twice, the first on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:35 left before halftime and the second with a driving layup along the right baseline with 4:36 remaining.
“Obviously, it was a tale of two halves,” Cronin said. “Fortunately, we dominated the first half.”