Cincinnati’s shooting woes continue, but another strong defensive effort helped it rebound from its first loss.
The 14th-ranked Bearcats look to get their offense in gear and continue their winning ways Saturday when they face St. John’s in their Big East home opener.
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Since shooting a combined 51.3 percent in lopsided victories over Tennessee-Martin, Mississippi Valley State, North Carolina A&T and Campbell to open the season, Cincinnati (13-1, 1-0) is converting 40.5 percent of its field-goal attempts.
Sean Kilpatrick tops the Bearcats with 18.6 points per game but has shot 13 of 49 (26.5 percent) from 3-point range over the past six. In that same span, third-leading scorer JaQuon Parker has been held to 36.6 percent from the field.
“Everyone is just rushing everything,” Kilpatrick said of the team’s offensive struggles.
After shooting a season-worst 31.3 percent in a 55-54 home loss to New Mexico on Dec. 27, the Bearcats missed 30 of their 51 attempts in Monday’s league opener at No. 24 Pittsburgh. However, coach Mick Cronin’s team won 70-61 as it held the Panthers – among the nation’s best shooting teams at 51.3 percent – to 27 second-half points and 0 for 10 from 3-point range for the game.
Cincinnati is among the Division I leaders in field-goal defense at 35.5 percent.
“We try to put game pressure on you and win the game in the last 10 minutes,” said Cronin, one win shy of moving into third place at Cincinnati with 127. “It was a tremendous effort by our guys on the defensive end.”
The Bearcats may need a similar effort as league scoring leader D’Angelo Harrison leads the Red Storm (8-5, 0-1) into Fifth Third Arena.
Harrison increased his scoring average to 22.1 with a career-high 36 in Wednesday’s 98-86 overtime loss at Villanova. The sophomore guard hit six 3-pointers and finished with the most points by a Red Storm player since Lamont Hamilton’s 36 against Columbia on Dec. 23, 2006.
“He poses a lot of problems for you,” Cronin said of Harrison. “He can score behind the line, he can go at the rim and he draws a lot of fouls. He’s got our attention, no doubt about it.”
Harrison’s effort Wednesday wasn’t enough as St. John’s dropped its second straight.
“There were stretches where we fought back and played brilliantly, and overall we saw improvement out of several of our young guys. But we didn’t finish the first half well, and we didn’t finish the second half well, and we didn’t finish in overtime,” coach Steve Lavin told the school’s official website. “This level is far too competitive to be able to win without executing during those critical stretches.”
The Red Storm have lost five consecutive Big East road games but have pulled out close wins in their last two against the Bearcats. After holding on for a 59-57 victory at Cincinnati on Feb. 13, 2011, St. John’s won 57-55 on Jan. 7 – and ended the Bearcats’ seven-game win streak – as Moe Harkless’ putback of Harrison’s floater came right before the buzzer.
Kilpatrick had a game-high 21 points that day and shared the team lead with 14 as Cincinnati salvaged the season split with a 76-54 victory at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 8.
The previous four games between these teams had been decided by two points.
Cincinnati needs a win to even this all-time series at eight.