Just as they have all season, the Cincinnati Bearcats found a way to win a game that could have gone very wrong. On Friday, despite trailing for much of the first half, they endured and defeated the SMU Mustangs 82-74 in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at FedExForum.
The second-seeded Bearcats struggled with the 10th-seeded Mustangs during the regular season as well, with their two contests decided by eight points combined. The Bearcats won both of those contests, but there was still real fear that they might fail to pull off another escape act on Friday. They trailed by eight points at one point in the first half, but finished the period on a 15-6 run, capped by a three-pointer from Justin Jenifer just before intermission. That bucket gave them a 40-38 edge at the break.
The Bearcats pushed that lead to nine points early in the second half, but the Mustangs weren’t finished just yet, as a quick 8-0 run brought them to within one with 11:42 to play. They also tied things up three more times but eventually ran out of gas, as the Bearcats made 11 free throws and scored 12 second chance points in the final 20 minutes.
AAC Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland paced the Bearcats with 26 points, 17 of which he scored in the second half. He also handed out eight assist while making 10-of-20 shots from the field. Jenifer added 17 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, including a 5-for-5 mark from three-point range, and Trevon Scott recorded a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds.
SMU, which upset seventh-seeded Tulsa in the first round, hit 51.7 percent of their shots and got 24 points from Jimmy Whitt Jr. and 18 from Jahmal McMurray. The Bearcats countered by hitting 50.8 percent from the field while holding advantages in points in the paint (38-26) and from beyond the arc (27-21).
The Bearcats will now await the winner of the final quarterfinal matchup between No. 3 seed Temple and No. 6 Wichita State in the tournament semifinals on Saturday.