Cincinnati gave it all they could, but it simply wasn't enough to takedown the No. 11 team in the country. The Bearcats defense, which has been only allowed an average of 59.4 points per game, was exposed by Iowa State's offensive firepower to the tune of 81 points. The Bearcats showed resiliency and kept pace for much of the game, but Cincinnati ultimately fell short at the end in the 81-79 loss at Fifth Third Arena.
Iowa State's success centered around the Cyclones star power offensively as Georges Niang and Monte Morris controlled the first half. Niang scored 14 points and secured five rebounds while Morris added 11 points, three assists and three steals in the opening period. Cincinnati had yet another slow start to this one, which is becoming somewhat of a worrisome trend. The Bearcats were outscored 14-2 to start the game as turnovers and missed shots, particularly threes, plagued Cincinnati's entire first half. Cincinnati would trail by as much as 13 points in the half as Morris dominated the flow of the game, setting up guys like Niang and Abdel Nader, who had some key shots in the early-going.
Cincinnati bounced back from their early deficit, making an 8-2 run around the 15 minute mark, pulling within five points. The Bearcats would make an 8-2 run before the half, not letting the Cyclones pull away. Cincinnati entered the half trailing only 45-38, despite the Bearcats defense struggling to contain the Iowa State offense.
Iowa State kept the points coming in the second half, but this time, Cincinnati kept pace. Fueled by a rowdy home crowd, the Bearcats began to put up points behind Troy Caupain. Despite trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half, Cincinnati clawed back again, finding their rhythm from three and forcing some stops. The Bearcats pulled within two points (62-60) with 9:30 left in the game.
Cincinnati and Iowa State would trade blows, highlighted by a couple three-pointers from Jacob Evans III and Iowa State's Matt Thomas. Meanwhile, Gary Clark began to make his presence felt down low. Clark would finish the game with 10 points, on 5-of-8 shooting, and nine rebounds.
Finally, with 4:26 left in regulation, a Kevin Johnson jumper gave Cincinnati their first lead of the game at 71-70, following an offensive rebound by Evans. Iowa State wouldn't go away though, as Thomas knocked down two free throws and Niang made a jumper, responding to a couple Evans' free throws, resulting in a 75-74 Cincinnati lead. Caupain drilled a three to give Cincinnati a 78-74 lead with 2:09 left. A Jameel McKay free throw and a Niang three-pointer quickly closed the gap, tying the game at 78 with just over a minute left.
Two unsuccessful possessions for each team resulted in foul shots for Caupain, following a Morris foul. Caupain missed the first and hit the second free throw to give the Bearcats the 79-78 lead with 28.5 seconds remaining, setting up the Cyclones for a final shot.
Iowa State would ultimately get the ball into the hands of Niang who found Nader in the corner for an open three-pointer. Nader, who finished the game with 11 points, knocked down the shot, giving the Cyclones the 81-79 lead with 11 seconds left. In Cincinnati's final push, Caupain missed a three, Clark couldn't get the favorable bounce on the rebound and Farad Cobb's desperation heave was just off, leading to a heart-breaking 81-79 home loss.
Caupain led the Bearcats with 18 points, while adding four assists and five rebounds. The four assists were a team-high in this one. Clark and Cobb each added 10 points while Evans was dynamic off the bench. Evans scored 14 points, secured five rebounds and hit 2-of-5 beyond the arc. He was also 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. Cincinnati was only 10-of-16 from the free throw line as a team with Caupain going 5-of-6 himself. Octavius Ellis was solid with eight rebounds and nine points, although he was largely contained by the Iowa State defense.
The Bearcats were actually the better shooting team, hitting 31-of-66 field goals (47.0%) and 7-of-21 (33.3%) three-pointers. Shooting 62.5% from the free throw line simply isn't enough in a game of this nature though.
Iowa State was paced by Niang who finished with a double-double. He scored 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting and reeled in 10 rebounds. Morris, who was so dynamic in the first half, cooled off in the second, but still finished with 16 points and seven assists.
Cincinnati heads off on break for the holidays, but will be back in action on Dec. 29 against Temple to open American Athletic Conference play.