NEW YORK (AP) — Sean Kilpatrick was happy to be home. It just didn’t look that way.
The native of White Plains, N.Y, changed all that in hurry, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the opening 5 minutes of the second half and Cincinnati went on to a 76-54 victory over St. John’s on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“Going to the locker room at halftime Coach was telling me I was rushing a bit and was too anxious,” the redshirt sophomore said. “You tend to do that when you’re excited to play here. I was happy to be here especially being a New York kid. When the shots were there I was talking them. Everything got more comfortable.”
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The blowout win by the Bearcats (17-7, 7-4 Big East) ended a string of four straight games between the teams that ended with two-point margins, including St. John’s 57-55 win at Cincinnati on Jan. 7.
“We executed more, we rebounded more and we played defense,” Kilpatrick said of the difference in the two meetings this season.
Kilpatrick, the Bearcats’ leading scorer with a 15.4 average, scored 10 straight points as part of a 12-3 run that gave Cincinnati a 44-27 lead with 15:26 to play. He had eight rebounds.
Yancy Gates had 14 points and nine rebounds and Cashmere Wright had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Bearcats, who finished with a 49-29 rebound advantage.
“Our kids were really focused. I think it’s always a factor,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said of playing a team that already beat you. “It does help in a return game that the mental edge goes to the team that lost the game before.”
D’Angelo Harrison had 15 points to lead the Red Storm (10-14, 4-8), who have lost three of four and dropped to 2-7 this season at Madison Square Garden. They were coming off a 95-70 home loss to No. 2 Syracuse. Moe Harkless, who came into the game as the No. 2 freshman scorer (16.2) and rebounder (8.7) in the Big East, finished with a season-low six points on 2-of-8 shooting. His previous low was eight points against No. 1 Kentucky.
“The fact of the matter is we have played with more certainty at times this season,” said St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap, who is coaching the team as head coach Steve Lavin continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. “Rebounding is an effort stat. It just wasn’t right tonight for whatever reason. We were flat. That’s on me.”
A 3-pointer by Harkless cut St. John’s deficit to 32-24 1:19 into the second half. Cincinnati went on the 12-3 run and then extended the lead to as many as 27 points, the last time at 75-48 on a 3-pointer by Jeremiah Davis III with 1:13 to play.
Before the game St. John’s announced that junior guard Malik Stith was leaving the basketball team for personal reasons but he will stay with the program in some capacity and will pursue his degree.
Stith’s departure leaves St. John’s with a six-man rotation, all first-year players in the program.
“Any win they get in the Big East this year is gravy,” Cronin said about the Red Storm. “You can’t play with all first-year players in this league. It’s unrealistic.”
Harrison said the Red Storm have to “just play with what we have. We know we have to play together no matter what. So we all have to pull together as a team.”
Cincinnati entered the game third in the conference in points allowed (60.4) and that number went down as the Bearcats held the Red Storm to 32.8 percent shooting (19 for 58) for the game. The Bearcats shot 51.7 percent (31 of 60), including going 7 of 16 from 3-point range.
“We’ve got to stick together,” Harkless said. “We shot 32 percent and that’s not good and we let them shoot 52 percent. We did not come out with a good enough defensive effort and that affected our offense.”