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Cincinnati Bearcats escape early exit in conference tourney quarterfinal

Top seed beats No. 9 SMU 61-51
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Posted at 2:05 PM, Mar 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-09 16:55:39-05

ORLANDO, Fla. -  Top-seeded Cincinnati woke up midway through the second half and escaped what would have been an embarrassing early exit from the American Athletic Conference Tournament Friday afternoon.

With Jacob Evans and Jarrod Cumberland held to two points between them and UC missing its first 10 3-point shots, undermanned SMU threatened to shock the Bearcats and undermine their hopes for a No. 2 seed and a favorable draw in the NCAA Tournament.

But Kyle Washington and Cane Broome picked up the scoring slack and the Bearcats ran away to a 61-51 quarterfinal win.  Washington scored 15 points and added seven rebounds and Broome came off the bench to score 13.

"We won without making shots, which is something Coach (Bob) Huggins taught me 20 years ago," UC coach Mick Cronin said.  

"The guys played hard enough to win in the second half. We picked it up on the defensive end, picked it up on the backboard."

UC (28-4) will meet fifth-seeded Memphis (21-12)  in the 1 p.m. Saturday semifinal. The Tigers beat fourth-seeded Tulsa 67-64. UC beat Memphis twice during the regular season by 34 and 14 points.

SMU (17-16) led UC by six early in the second half, but the Bearcats went on a 10-0 run that pushed them ahead 42-38 with just over 11 minutes to play. 

It took nearly 35 minutes for UC to make a 3-pointer, but it proved the turning point.

Broome hit a three with 5:34 left, then got fouled on his next 3-point attempt and made all three free throws. Gary Clark connected from the corner for another 3-pointer and suddenly the Bearcats had a 57-47 lead with 3:27 left.

Clark, named the conference player of the year this week, was a force with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

"Shots aren't always going to fall," Clark said. "That's why you've got to play defense like we did."

Evans sat out most of the first half with foul trouble and got his only basket with 6:08 left. Cumberland didn’t score at all, but Cronin saved the highest accolades for him.

The sophomore guard had eight assists, eight deflections and five rebounds and fed Washington for close baskets in the paint. 

"In my opinion, Jarrod Cumberland is the player of the game," Cronin said. "He just gives us a toughness that we need. He's just a real, real competitor.

"If it wasn't for him, we don't win this game. And that goes for Tre and Nysier as well," Cronin said.

Reserves Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks made key baskets during UC's second-half run. Scott, a freshman forward, had seven points and Brooks, a sophomore center, had six.

Cincinnati finished the game 2 of 14 on 3-pointers but otherwise shot over 50 percent from the field (22 of 43). They left points at the foul line, though, making just 11 of 19.

SMU was not expected to put up a fight after losing to UC by 26 and 20 during the season. The Mustangs lost their two best players to injuries and were down to seven scholarship players.

But Akoy Agau hit a 3 to start a 7-0 spurt that gave the Mustangs their biggest lead, 38-32, with 15:27 left.

The Bearcats, however, converted four straight offensive rebounds and added a layup by Scott to regain the lead.

Cincinnati hit only two perimeter shots in the first half, but still led 28-27 at the break thanks to eight offensive rebounds. Washington scored nine points, all in the paint, to keep Cincinnati afloat.

Jamal McMurray led SMU with 17 points and Ben Emelogu had 11 points and seven rebounds.  Agau had eight points but reinjured a severely sprained ankle on the first possession of the game and played just 24 minutes.

SEE the box score.