CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bearcats found themselves in a stressful situation Tuesday night for the first time this season.
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True, it wasn’t the stress of a two- or three-point Big East Conference game in January, but there were a few anxious moments late in UC’s 91-72 victory over Campbell in the Global Sports Invitational before 5,924 fans at Fifth Third Arena.
From UC coach Mick Cronin’s standpoint, it was just what the doctor ordered after three lopsided wins, the last one by 54 points.
“Although I was disappointed in our defense in the second half, I was happy that we were able to get under some game pressure,” Cronin said. “We definitely needed that before Friday. We’ve been in nothing but laughers. It was maybe a little wakeup call that some of our guys needed.”.
Trailing by 25 with 11:38 left, the Camels trimmed UC’s lead to 11 with 5:21 to go before the No. 20 Bearcats, forced to keep their front-line players in the game, put the victory away in the closing minutes. JaQuon Parker drove the baseline for a layup, Cashmere Wright scored in transition and Parker dropped in a pair of free throws that put UC back on top by 17 at 81-64 with 4:04 to play.
UC was never in serious danger of losing, but at least felt a little pressure. The good news for the Bearcats was that they knew how to handle it.
“We got too comfortable,” Parker said. “But then we got back and got refocused.”.
UC (4-0) will play Iowa State on Friday in Las Vegas, with the winner facing the winner of the UNLV-Oregon game Saturday.
The Bearcats’ big three of Wright, Parker and Sean Kilpatrick each scored in double figures. Wright led the way with a career-high 28 points. Parker scored a season-high 21 and Kilpatrick had his second career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
This was by far the best competition UC has faced this season. Campbell (2-3) was the pre-season pick to win the Big South Conference North Division and boasted the leading scorer in the conference in senior guard Darren White, who entered the game averaging 25.5 points. He finished with 22 and led the Camels’ comeback in the second half.
“I can see why they were picked to win their league,” Cronin said.
Campbell coach Robbie Laing, whose team lost at Iowa State, 88-68, on Sunday, said he would give the edge to the Bearcats based on their defense. Obviously he was talking about UC’s first-half defense.
“That’s the most imposing defense we have seen to date,” Laing said. “Cincinnati is much more physical. They will guard. Cincinnati sat on top of us tonight defensively. We didn’t see that at Iowa State. Cincinnati smothered us. We couldn’t reverse the ball. And tonight when the game got a little bit tight and they needed buckets, they had good composure and finished the game.”.
For once, the UC players seemed more upset by their second-half letdown than their coach.
“They shot 63 percent the second half,” Wright said. “The whole thing Coach Cronin told us was if we take the same thing to Vegas we’re not going to win.”.
UC shot 50 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Camels, 50-28, but continued to have a hard time making free throws. After converting just nine of 23 Sunday against NC A&T, the Bearcats were 18-for-34 against Campbell, with six of those misses by Parker in 11 attempts. They’re shooting 53.2 percent for the season.
“The amount of free throws we’re shooting (in practice), sooner or later they’ve got to pay off,” Wright said. “It’s not like we’re not working hard for it.”.
Bill Koch writes for The Cincinnati Enquirer.