CINCINNATI (AP) The game plan has become common for Cincinnati.
Play close games, and turn it over to the seniors in the end.
It worked again on Saturday for the 10th-ranked Bearcats.
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Sean Kilpatrick scored 28 points, 19 in the second half, and Justin Jackson overcame foul problems to add 13 points, all in the second half, as the Bearcats shook off Houston, 73-62.
Jackson and Kilpatrick teamed up to score 32 of Cincinnati’s 44 points in the second half to keep the Bearcats in the game until they could pull away.
”We’re seniors,” said Jackson, who was limited to 20 minutes by his foul problems. ”This is our team. We know what we need to do to help the team win. In the last five or six minutes, we know we need to step it up.”
Coach Mick Cronin has seen it so often that he’s come to count on it.
”A lot of that is Justin and (Kilpatrick) and (senior forward) Titus Rubles, and a lot of that is habit,” Cronin said. ”Hopefully, it will serve us well in March, when everybody is good and games are close. We get a heightened awareness defensively. We get hard to score on on defense. I don’t like to belittle Houston’s effort. They were making good plays and getting good shots. Late in the game, our defense was what it needed to be.”
Houston coach James Dickey has seen enough of Kilpatrick, who also had six assists, five in the second half
”I was proud of our team, but certainly, Cincinnati is deserving of being a top 10 team,” Dickey said. ”Kilpatrick, what a special player he is. I thought he was terrific in the second half. He made big plays and put the team on his back.”
Shaquille Thomas added 11 points for the Bearcats (23-3, 12-1 American Athletic Conference), who were playing their first game since having a 15-game winning streak snapped with a 76-55 loss at SMU on Feb. 8.
Danrad Knowles scored 11 points to lead Houston (12-13, 4-8), which has lost six of its past seven and eight of its past 10 games, led Houston with 11 points. L.J. Rose, Danuel House and TaShawn Thomas each added 10 for the Cougars.
”Our guys competed,” Dickey said. ”It was a three-point game with about 2 1-2 minutes to go and (Ge’Lawn) Guyn hit two 3s off great penetration by Kilpatrick. When you look at it, both teams in the second half had trouble getting stops. They shoot (60.7) percent and we shoot (61.9) percent in the second half. We went through a stretch there in the last couple of minutes where we couldn’t get a basket and they got more stops than we did, and that turned out to be the difference in the game.”
The lead changed hands throughout, the last when Jackson’s dunk made it 59-57. Guyn added back-to-back 3-pointers as Cincinnati ended the game with an 18-5 run.
”I thought this was a great experience for us today, the way we had to execute to win this game in the second half,” Cronin said. ”Houston had a highly efficient offense until we were able to lock in late in the game and get some defensive stops. It was good to have to deal with that. It makes us a better team.”
The game drew a crowd of 13,176, Cincinnati’s first sellout since a 60-56 win over then-Big East-rival Louisville on Feb. 23, 2012. The 13th-ranked Cardinals are scheduled to be at Cincy for a key AAC matchup next Saturday.
”It was a sellout?” Kilpatrick responded when he heard that. ”That’s great. It shows the fans are getting excited. It shows they’re behind us. That’s huge.”
Kilpatrick scored nine points in the first half, five while Cincinnati was ending the half with a 7-0 run for a 29-28 lead. That came after the Cougars had used a 9-1 run to open up the biggest lead for either team before intermission 28-24 with 2:54 remaining.