Xavier 83, No. 19 Cincinnati 79
Two technicals. Two overtimes. Sharp elbows and even sharper tongues. A senior making the winning play at the end.
When the buzzer sounded, it was already a classic.
Jason Love got his 19th rebound with 9.8 seconds left in the second overtime and made a clinching free throw on Sunday night, steadying Xavier to an 83-79 victory over No. 19 Cincinnati in a nasty renewal of their crosstown rivalry, one that folks around town will refer to for years to come.
``I couldn't think of a better way to go out,'' said Love, Xavier's lone senior who matched his career high in rebounds and blocked five shots.
Xavier (6-3) wasted a 10-point lead in regulation, survived Lance Stephenson's off-target shot at the end of the first overtime, then pulled it out on its home court.
``Being so close - 2 1/2 miles away - throughout the years, it's been the highlight of the city,'' Xavier's Dante Jackson said. ``It was intense. How many times did the officials have to break us up?''
Cincinnati (6-2) has dropped three straight and 10 of the last 14 against Xavier, which has a knack for gritting them out. It held true in the first double-overtime game in a series that dates to 1928.
``There's something magical about this game,'' first-year Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
This one fit the profile to a T, as in technical foul.
Terrell Holloway led Xavier with a career-high 26 points, including a three-point play that tied it with 19 seconds left in the first overtime. Stephenson scored a career-high 22 for Cincinnati.
The city's headline basketball rivalry was second-page material this week, with the young Musketeers struggling and Cincinnati caught up in the loss of football coach Brian Kelly, who went to Notre Dame with his unbeaten Bearcats headed to the Sugar Bowl. Midway through the first half, Xavier's student section chanted ``Brian Kelly!'' to rub it in.
In years past, it was a premier event with a very raw edge.
When Bob Huggins coached the Bearcats, the Musketeers took delight in knocking them off their high-ranked pedestal. Since Huggins' ouster shortly before the start of the 2005-06 season, Xavier has become the city's top basketball program, going to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in three of the past six years, reaching the Elite Eight twice.
Cincinnati has been shoveling out from Huggins' ouster, failing to make the NCAA tournament since he left. The Bearcats have finally regained their balance and stature in Mick Cronin's fourth season, making it back into the national rankings for the first time since 2005-06.
Could they come full-circle in their backyard rivalry?
Xavier opened with a 12-5 run, blocking four of Cincinnati's first eight shots. Then the Bearcats' interior defense dug in, forcing Xavier to take long-range shots. The Musketeers missed 13 straight, failing to get a basket for nearly 8 minutes while Cincinnati pulled ahead 19-12.
With one hard foul, the game took on its old, nasty edge.
Xavier's Jordan Crawford and Cincinnati's Rashad Bishop began yelling at each other after a hard foul, drawing technical fouls.
``There was just a little talking going on,'' Bishop said. ``It just kind of escalated a little too far.''
The angry exchanged seemed to distract the Bearcats and inspire the Musketeers, who went on a 12-2 run.
``We lost our heads,'' Cronin said. ``We were worried about everything but winning the game.''
With 3:20 left in the half, Love drew an intentional foul on Stephenson as he went up for a layup. During the timeout, both benches emptied to midcourt and players yelled at each other while coaches yanked and shoved them back, preventing it from escalating.
Holloway made a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer that helped Xavier take a 31-26 halftime lead. The three referees stood between the teams as they headed for their locker rooms at the buzzer.
Xavier pulled ahead by 10 points in the second half, but Stephenson made a pair of jumpers and a 3-pointer during an 11-0 run that gave Cincinnati a 55-51 lead. With the score tied at 61, Xavier's Jackson made a basket at the buzzer that was waved off. Replays confirmed the ball was still in his hands at the buzzer, sending it overtime.
Stephenson had a chance to win it in the first overtime, but his 3-point shot in the closing seconds was off the rim.