The Cincinnati Bearcats walked onto the court as the more talented team tonight and they looked every bit of it in the first 20 minutes. UC raced out to a 10-4 lead in the first five minutes and finished the first half up 40-24. The only issue was Justin Jackson got into early foul trouble. He picked up his second foul with a little under nine minutes to go in the first half. Titus Rubles did an outstanding job filling in for him, picking up 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes, but boy did those early fouls on Jackson nearly cost Cincinnati late in the game.
After halftime the Bearcats continued their dominating ways. But then the shots stopped dropping, especially with Jackson picking up more fouls, and slowly but surely Houston begin chipping away at Cincinnati’s lead behind several three point shots and horrid perimeter defense. Eventually, with about 10 minutes to play, the Cougars had cut the lead to three. But then Houston experienced a scoring drought of their own, going almost seven minutes without making a field goal. It allowed UC to build a seemingly secure 11 point lead with three minutes to go.
That lead wasn’t even remotely safe.
Houston surged offensively yet again in response to another untimely Cincinnati scoring drought due to Jackson on the bench and Rubles dangerously in foul trouble himself. It made the game far more agonizing than it needed to be. Still, UC’s guards buried clutch free throws to seal the win. Bearcat fans couldn’t have been more relieved.
But again, this game never should have come down to free throws. The Bearcats displayed almost perfect basketball in the first half and let a large lead slip away to an inferior opponent in the second half. Houston made seven three’s in the final 20 minutes that gave me nightmares of the Crosstown Shootout. Maybe the Cougars just miraculously found their stroke in the second half but UC’s inability to defend the three-ball was more than a little concerning.
Still, this team is 14-2 and undefeated in the AAC. This is still a strong team and while they aren’t without their warts, surviving games like these will only make the Bearcats stronger in the long run. Cincinnati hosts the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at 6 pm EST on Saturday.