As usual, it wasn’t pretty, and as usual, the Bearcats won.
The Cincinnati Bearcats (14-2, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) won their seventh straight game, beating SMU (14-4, 4-1) 66-64 on Thursday night. The game was billed as a matchup of the top two teams in the American Athletic Conference and it didn’t disappoint. SMU entered the contest on a 10-game winning streak, with victories over Memphis (on the road), Temple and Stanford. The Bearcats were fresh off a key road win in Houston and held their own six-game winning streak.
Cincinnati was hot from the start, hitting back-to-back three pointers by Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson in the first minute. SMU briefly took a 12-11 lead with 13:53 to play in the half before the Bearcats used a 16-0 run over five minutes to take their own 27-12 lead. Cincinnati hit seven three pointers in the first half, with three apiece from Caupain and Johnson.
Here's all 7 first half 3 pointers for the #Bearcats pic.twitter.com/f58ywulC7e— J. Scott Sewell (@jscottsewell) January 13, 2017
SMU then used a 7-2 run over the final two minutes to cut the lead to 34-27 at halftime. Cincinnati assisted on 10 of their 13 made field goal attempts in the first half, but was out-rebounded 20-13 by SMU, enabling the Mustangs to keep the game tight.
The second half started off just like the first, with Troy Caupain hitting a corner three pointer on the first possession. The Bearcats quickly built the lead back to 42-29 thanks to a strong second half by Gary Clark. Clark scored 12 points in the first eight minutes of the half as the Mustangs struggled to find an answer to the Gary Clark problem. Clark ended the game with 18 points and five rebounds.
SMU slowly chipped away at the lead until the score was 61-59 with just under five minutes to play. Jarron Cumberland hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game, with a silky smooth three pointer to give the Bearcats a little breathing room at 64-59.
Huge shot by @Clutchman_34! Wow. #Bearcats pic.twitter.com/lJnLIMvTA2— J. Scott Sewell (@jscottsewell) January 13, 2017
The Mustangs still wouldn’t go away. Jarrey Foster hit a three pointer with 44 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 66-64. SMU then got the ball back with 16 seconds left and a chance to tie or win the game. In a heart-pounding sequence, Sterling Brown had a three-pointer travel halfway down the rim before falling out, and then Ben Moore missed a layup that could’ve tied the game.
Anybody else's heart almost stop here? #Bearcats pic.twitter.com/ZKMT8TjVLo— J. Scott Sewell (@jscottsewell) January 13, 2017
It’s a game the Bearcats would’ve lost last year, but they just continue to find a way to win this year.
Caupain scored 16 points and added seven rebounds and six assists. His three made three pointers in the first half set the tone, and gave the Bearcats the breathing room they needed later.
Kyle Washington had a couple of defensive missteps, but overall played a very good game. He scored 11 points with five rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Kyle Washington says NO! #Bearcats pic.twitter.com/9bpWAbcc2H— J. Scott Sewell (@jscottsewell) January 13, 2017
This was a team win though. Even Jacob Evans, who scored a season-low two points on 1-of-10 shooting, added five rebounds, six assists and two blocks. Everyone that stepped on the floor contributed in some way, and it was just barely enough to beat a very talented SMU team.
The Bearcats now control their own destiny in the American Athletic Conference. They have ECU, Temple and Tulane next on the schedule and a real shot at entering the Crosstown Shootout against Xavier at 17-2 and undefeated in conference play.
If the team continues to play at this level, they may go down as the best Bearcats team since the 2001-02 team that finished 31-4.