As Cincinnati expected, Wichita State had one last run down the stretch — enough to pull even, but not overtake the No. 24 Bearcats.
Cane Broome hit the go-ahead layup with 23.5 seconds left to help UC take a 66-63 victory over Wichita State in Saturday's semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament. That set up Sunday's 3:15 p.m. championship showdown between the conference's top two teams - Cincinnati as the No. 2 seed and top-seeded Houston, which survived Memphis 61-58.
"This is the time of year that you are not into splitting atoms," Bearcat coach Mick Cronin said. "You win and move on."
Nysier Brooks scored 13 points and Tre Scott had 12 points and eight rebounds to lead UC. Jarron Cumberland, the conference player of the year, was limited to 11 points, going 3 of 16 from the field.
Markis McDuffie scored 18 for the Shockers (19-14), the tournament's No. 6 seed. Samajae Haynes-Jones had 17, despite missing six of his seven 3-point attempts.
"We were one play short against a very, very good team, a very well-coached team, a team that's going to go to the NCAA tournament and hopefully advance pretty deep," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.
Cincinnati appeared in control with a 62-55 lead with 4:44 left, when the Shockers made their run. They caught the Bearcats at 62-all, then again deadlocked at 63 with 46.7 seconds left.
On the ensuing Cincinnati possession Broome got to the rim for a layup and a Bearcat lead of 65-63 with 23.5 seconds left.
"Big basket, obviously, for Cane Broome down the stretch," Cronin said. "Jarron Cumberland set a great screen."
Marshall called timeout to set up a play and McDuffie drove on Cincinnati's Keith Williams, but missed in close. The Bearcats grabbed the rebound and Cumberland split a pair of free throws for the final margin.
"Win and advance; survive and advance," Cronin said.
Cumberland struggled throughout the game and dealt with foul trouble in the second half. But while he was out, the Bearcats were able to extend their lead. That was significant in providing a buffer as Wichita State made its comeback.
Cronin said he wanted to reach the championship game, not only to play for the crown, but also because "my feeling is Houston is as good as anybody in the country."
UC lost twice to Houston this season. "Obviously, you want to try and right the fact that they beat you twice," Cronin said. "That doesn't happen a lot around Cincinnati."