FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Quentin Grimes scored 21 points with five 3-pointers, Marcus Sasser had 16 points and No. 7 Houston beat Cincinnati 91-54 on Sunday in the third consecutive American Athletic Conference tournament championship game between the two teams.
The Cougars (24-3) were a lock for their 22nd NCAA Tournament berth even before leading the entire game to win their first conference tournament title since 2010, when they were still in Conference USA, and five seasons before Kelvin Sampson became their coach.
DeJon Jarreau, two days after a triple-double in the quarterfinal round, hit a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game to put to Cougars ahead to stay. He finished with 10 points.
Jeremiah Davenport had 11 points, all in the first half, and Mamoudou Diarra 10 for Cincinnati (12-11), which will have its NCAA Tournament steak end at nine appearances in a row.
Sasser had 14 of his points by halftime, when Houston led 41-27. Grimes then scored 10 points in a 12-0 run soon after the break, with the 6-foot-5 junior guard bookending the 2 1/2-minute spurt with a pair of 3-pointers, and in between making a jumper and a dunk.
The Bearcats had won the previous two AAC title game matchups before last year’s tournaments were canceled because of COVID-19 after Houston had won its second consecutive AAC regular-season title. This year, Cincinnati needed a third in a row to earn the league’s automatic berth.
Instead, this game got lopsided like their only regular-season matchup three weeks earlier, when Houston won 90-52 at home over the Bearcats. This was the most lopsided AAC tournament final game, surpassing SMU’s 15-point win over Cincinnati in 2017.
Cincinnati was 9-4 in games played after returning from a 25-day pause because of COVID-19 following a road loss to Wichita State on Jan. 10. The Bearcats got to their fourth consecutive AAC tournament title game with a 60-59 win over the top-seeded Shockers in their semifinal game Saturday.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats shot only 27.7% from the field (18 of 65). Senior guard Keith Williams, their leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, was back on the floor but had only eight points on 3-of-13 shooting in 24 minutes of action. He scored nine of Cincinnati’s opening 16 points in the semifinal win over Wichita State, but didn’t play in the second half of that game because of an undisclosed injury.
Houston: The Cougars are going to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament. Before that, they had been to only three NCAAs the previous 20 years (2010, 1992, 1990).