Cincinnati (18-2, 7-0 American) battled back from an eight point halftime deficit to beat Xavier (14-6, 4-3 Big East) 86-78 in front of a sellout crowd on Thursday night. The Bearcats outscored Xavier 50-34 in the second half thanks to 13 second-half points from freshman Jarron Cumberland. It was the 11th straight win of the season for Cincinnati, and it snaps a three-game losing streak against crosstown rival, Xavier.
The outlook was bleak for Cincinnati in the first half. The Bearcats held an early lead, but Xavier quickly battled back thanks to a barrage of three pointers from J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett. Macura’s three pointer with 12:32 remaining in the first half gave Xavier their first lead of the night. The Musketeers wouldn’t trail again for nearly 22 minutes of game time.
Trevon Bluiett was the story of the half. Bluiett scored just three points on 1-8 shooting in last year’s Crosstown Shootout, but had 26 points at halftime on Thursday. The junior hit all eight of his shots, including six three pointers, and added a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the half to give Xavier the 44-36 halftime lead. He’d finish with a career high 40 points and four rebounds on the night.
The second half began the way the first half ended with Bluiett hitting his first two three pointers to give Xavier a 52-45 lead. Jarron Cumberland’s driving layup allowed Cincinnati to retake the lead 55-54, and the Bearcats used a 15-2 run to extend the lead to 60-54.
Cincinnati would eventually lead 72-63, but they were unable to put Xavier away for good thanks to a terrible performance from the free throw line. The Bearcats hit just 18 of 37 (48.6%), a sharp contrast to Xavier’s 19-23 (82.6%) performance from the line. That discrepancy was enough to allow the Musketeers to cut the lead to 74-71 on yet another Trevon Bluiett three pointer, and then cut the lead even further to 76-75. Jacob Evans responded with five of his team-high 21 points to finally put the game out of reach for Cincinnati.
Evans had several highlight plays for the Bearcats including this bucket against Xavier’s Kaiser Gates.
The win for Cincinnati could be their last chance for a Top 25 victory before the NCAA tournament. They still have a road game against SMU on their schedule, but the Mustangs haven’t been ranked yet this season. Regardless, beating a team like Xavier should be a big boost to their resume come selection Sunday.
Next up for Cincinnati is a home game against the worst team in the conference, South Florida. The Bulls enter the game 0-8 in conference play with very few winnable games remaining on their schedule. The Bearcats will gladly embrace an easy home game before they begin a four-game stretch that includes Tulsa, Connecticut, Central Florida, and that dangerous SMU team.