For a game that was supposed to be a defensive struggle, Memphis and Cincinnati both found ways to get the ball through the net. However, it was Cincinnati, led by a career-high 25 points from Troy Caupain, that got the last laugh in a back and forth game at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats move to 14-6 (4-3) on the season, following a much needed conference win over Memphis, 76-72.
Caupain, Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis got Cincinnati going early, jumping out to a 12-4 lead to start the game before the Tigers stormed back, eventually taking a 22-20 lead at the midway point in the first half. Cincinnati responded with another run of their own, going on an 11-2 run behind Kevin Johnson, Caupain and Shaq Thomas. However, the seven-point lead was quickly closed as Avery Woodson knocked down a three-pointer while drawing a foul on Thomas, setting up a four-point play. As they approached the break, the Bearcats were unable to pull away with Woodson's shooting touch keeping it close. Cincinnati entered halftime leading 41-38.
While the Bearcats did a great job limiting Memphis' starters in the early-going, the Memphis bench kept the Tigers in the game with efficient three-point shooting. Woodson was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc for Memphis in the first half alone and entered the break with 15 points. He finished the game with 18 points. Trahson Burrell had seven points in the first half and would finish the game with 24 points on 4-of-7 from three.
For the Bearcats, the first half belonged to Caupain, who led Cincinnati with 15 points on 7-of-9 from the field. Caupain only attempted (and made) one three in the first half as the junior guard aggressively attacked the rim from the onset of the game. Thomas had eight points at the break, setting the stage for arguably the best game of his career, as he would finish the game with 18 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Both teams were sloppy to start the second half with turnovers and poor offensive possessions before the offenses began to click again. Farad Cobb's first bucket of the game on an open three-pointer gave the Bearcats yet another seven-point advantage with 15:26 remaining. The Bearcats couldn't close the door though, as Burrell and the Tigers continued to hang around.
Cincinnati would pull ahead 60-51 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game. Burrell responded for Memphis, hitting a three-pointer on the next possession. The Tigers would go on a run of their own, eventually taking a 63-60 lead themselves. Having struggled this season in close games, Cincinnati fans had to feel a little uncomfortable.
In previous close contests this season, the Bearcats were unable to generate offense in pressure moments. This time, Cincinnati leaned on Caupain, who scored eight points in the final six minutes of the game, including six free throws. The Cincinnati defense buckled down in the closing minutes and the Bearcats defended their home floor with a 76-72 win.
Caupain led the Bearcats with 25 points on 9-of-16 from the field. He also dished out four assists, which tied Cobb for the team-high. Thomas was 8-of-11 from the field for his 18 points. Ellis was solid for Cincinnati, scoring 10 points. Johnson also added nine points for the Bearcats.
Cincinnati won despite going 4-of-15 (26.7%) from beyond the arc, in large part because they went 30-of-60 (50%) from the field, opting to attack the basket instead of heave up three-pointers. Still, the Bearcats struggled defensively against the three ball themselves, allowing Memphis to knock down 10-of-22 (45.5%) from three. Memphis was 25-of-57 (43.9%) from the field.
Cincinnati is home again on Sunday against Tulane at Fifth Third Arena. Tipoff is at noon with coverage on ESPNU.