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Bearcats lose AAC Championship to SMU

Cincinnati shot just 24.2% from field in first half

AAC Basketball Tournament - Championship Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Cincinnati (29-5, 16-2 American) was beaten 71-56 by a more talented, and better coached SMU (30-4, 17-1 American) team on Sunday. The Bearcats came out flat and never truly recovered. The game felt more like Tulane versus SMU than Cincinnati versus SMU. It was their worst game of the year and it came at one of the most inopportune moments — the AAC Championship game.

The Mustangs have now beaten the Bearcats twice this year, and both times the Bearcats were essentially out of contention with five to ten minutes remaining. This time, they were out of it almost immediately.

SMU jumped out to an 11-2 lead by the first break thanks to ice cold shooting from Cincinnati. A basket by Gary Clark with 9:57 to play in the half cut the deficit to 16-13, but SMU rebounded and continued to stretch their lead.

Despite shooting just 24.2% from the field in the first half, including 1-12 from three-point range, it looked as if the Bearcats might go to the half down just six points. It would’ve been a total reversal of fortunes, whereas the Bearcats typically outplay their opponents only to find the game much closer than it should’ve been at halftime. Unfortunately, Ben Emelogu made that a non-issue by hitting a running three-pointer at the buzzer to stretch the lead back to nine at 32-23.

It would only get worse in the second half.

SMU immediately jumped out to a 16-8 run to extend their lead to 17 points. Cincinnati continued to miss three-pointers, and despite trailing by 17 to one of the slowest paced teams in the country, they never changed their offensive approach. Time after time Mick Cronin’s team utilized their slow, methodical half court offense, and time after time they did SMU’s job for them by wasting 20-30 seconds of clock on each possession. There was never a sense of urgency, or sliver of hope that they’d actually make comeback

The one piece of good news is that Troy Caupain managed to set the all-time assists mark in Cincinnati history, passing Deonta Vaughn with this pass to Gary Clark in the first half.

There’s literally nothing else positive to report from this game. Kevin Johnson failed to score a single point for his second consecutive game. Quadri Moore was totally ineffective on offense while he played extended minutes thanks to Kyle Washington sitting on the bench with foul trouble. SMU consistently had space to get off open three-pointers and ended up hitting 10 of their 19 attempts for 52.6%.

Next up for the Bearcats is a chance at redemption in the NCAA Tournament. It would be sad to see this group of seniors end their careers on a such sour note, so here’s hoping for an easy draw and a run to the Sweet Sixteen.