Williams has career-high 15 in UC’s 73-51 win over NCCU

CINCINNATI (AP) — Keith Williams’s first career start was just what Cincinnati needed to jumpstart a sluggish offense.

Despite dealing with an illness that kept him away from post-game media sessions, Williams scored a career-high 15 points, three of his teammates also reached double figures and Cincinnati beat North Carolina Central 73-51 on Tuesday night.

Trevon Scott also set a career high with 12 points and Jarron Cumberland and Justin Jenifer each added 10 for Cincinnati (1-1), which led by as many as 29 points in the second half and improved to 3-0 in the series with the Eagles.

Scott believed Williams’ defense set the tone for the offense.

“He had 10 deflections,” Scott said of the sophomore, “He led us in deflections. He was active all over the court. He had the spark. Everybody else just followed.”

That was the kind of effort Mick Cronin saw in practice from Williams, who scored just four points against Ohio State in the opener.

“The real reason he started?” Cronin said, “Keith’s effort in practice the last three days. He cares so much, he gets jittery. As the game went on, he got calmer and calmer. We have to get him to focus on defense and rebounding and blocked shots and to take his time on offense.”

Williams’s previous career high was 10, which he reached twice as a freshman last season. Scott’s previous career high was 11 on Dec. 13, 2016, against Texas Southern.

Scott’s joy over his 12 points was obscured by finishing with just three rebounds.

“I had one offensive rebound,” he lamented. “I’ll be hearing about that all week.”

The Bearcats shook off shooting a chilly 27 percent on November 7 in a loss to Ohio State to go 31-of-53 (59 percent) from the field against the Eagles (0-2).

Randy Miller Jr. was the only player to reach double figures for NCCU, finishing with 21 points for the team that has reached the NCAA Tournament in three of the past five seasons.

Cronin also was impressed by the 13 turnovers forced by the Bearcats, which led to a 19-8 advantage in points off turnovers.

“Anything over 15 points off turnovers, it’s hard for the other team to win,” Cronin said. “I thought our energy and effort on defense was excellent. We still have mistakes we have to correct. I was really happy with the way the game went. I was surprised that we were able to pull away from them the way we did.”

The Bearcats went 1-for-8 over one stretch and 1-for-7 on 3-pointers in the first half but still shot 52 percent (16-of-31) on the way to a 34-19 halftime lead. They closed the half with a 16-5 run and led by as many as 18 points before halftime. Scott finished the first half with eight points, matching his total against the Buckeyes. Williams scored six points before halftime on Tuesday, two more than he scored against Ohio State.

Cumberland, who scored just four points in the first half, scored six on two 3-pointers as Cincinnati took control with an 13-2 run to open the second half.

BLOCK PARTY

The Bearcats blocked eight NCCU shots, led by the 6-foot-5 Williams with a career-high three. The Eagles finished with one.

O FOR OHIO

NCCU still is looking for its first Division I win in the state of Ohio.

INSIDE GAME

Cincinnati was 26-of-38 (67 percent) on shots inside the 3-point line.

BIG PICTURE

NCCU: The Eagles are opening the season with three consecutive road games for the second straight season.

Cincinnati: The game was the second of four straight at home to open the season for the Bearcats.

UP NEXT

NCCU: At Bowling Green on Thursday.

Cincinnati: Hosts Milwaukee on Friday.