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No. 15 Cincinnati tops Memphis to extend home streak

By
Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange

CINCINNATI -- University of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin didn't feel the need to rant following the Bearcats' win over Memphis on Thursday. The numbers spoke for themselves.

"They had 20 assists and shot 54 percent in our gym," Cronin said of the Tigers. "If that happens (in March), it'll be an early vacation for us in the NCAA Tournament. That was my message to the guys."

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Kyle Washington scored 16 points and Jacob Evans added 15 as No. 15 Cincinnati held off a furious second-half comeback by Memphis in an 87-74 victory at Fifth Third Arena.

The Bearcats (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic Conference) extended their home winning streak to 25 games and are off to their best start to a season in Cronin's tenure. The home streak is the second-longest in the country behind Oregon's 42-game run.

Cincinnati scored 15 points off 12 Memphis turnovers and dominated the offensive boards, producing 19 second-chance points.

"This time of year, you just try to win and move on to the next game," Cronin said. "Our offensive rebounding continues to improve. We shot 82 percent from the line. We did a lot of good things. We controlled the whole game."

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Memphis (18-10, 8-7) rallied from a 24-point deficit to within six points late in the second half. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points.

"That's as good as anyone has played against us all year," Cronin said of Martin, who had 11 assists and one turnover. "We just struggled defending his quickness."

Dedric Lawson, the Tigers' leading scorer and the AAC's leading rebounder, recorded his 18th double-double with 21 points and 10 boards.

KJ Lawson added 15 points for the Tigers, but it wasn't enough to help them avoid a third straight loss and fourth in the past five.

"I got a lot of respect for my kids and for how hard they were working," Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. "They battled. They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots ... and when you get in a hole like that, it's tough."

The Bearcats again benefitted from the steady play of senior point guard Troy Caupain, who had 12 points and seven assists with only one turnover.

Caupain's fifth assist of the night resulted in a tremendous one-handed dunk by Gary Clark, who sailed in from the left wing for the thunderous delivery with his right hand.

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Clark's slam brought the crowd to its feet and continued his usual February surge. He came in averaging 11.7 points and 10.8 rebounds in February, and he scored 13 on Thursday. Last February, he averaged 13.1 points and 10 rebounds.

"Just trying to dominate," Clark said. "Coaches are just on me to perform every night. We got the 'W' tonight, but we're playing for something bigger in March."

Cincinnati overwhelmed Memphis during a 51-point first half Thursday, its highest-scoring half in any AAC game this season.

Bearcats freshman guard Jarron Cumberland returned from a one-game suspension for a curfew violation and drilled a 3-pointer just 20 seconds after entering the game.

It was that kind of start for Cincinnati, which went 6 of 12 from 3-point range and had 12 assists to just three turnovers to build a 19-point halftime lead.

While nine Bearcats scored in the first half, Lawson (11) and Martin (10) accounted for the majority of Memphis' 32 points in the half.

"The halftime score was tough today, but we battled back, and at the end I was really proud that they didn't quit and kept fighting," Smith said. "We shot the ball better. We shot (58.1) percent in the second half which makes up for a lot of it. We just weren't able to knock down some threes (4 of 13)."

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After sleep-walking for most of the game, Memphis woke up late in the second half to at least elevate the sense of urgency for Cincinnati.

Lawson's dunk brought the Tigers within 71-62 with 8:25 left. It was the closest Memphis had been since the 14:57 mark of the first half.

A three-point play by Martin made it a six-point game with six minutes remaining.

Memphis scored 26 of its 42 points in the paint in the second half, resulting in some nervousness among the 12,787 fans in attendance.

Evans hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine, and the Bearcats managed to hold on for the win.

"For about thirty minutes, I thought we played as well as we could play," Cronin said. "My halftime speech gets an 'F.'"

NOTES:

-- Bearcats senior G Troy Caupain moved into third place on the school's all-time assists list, passing Cashmere Wright.

-- This is the fifth time that Memphis' Tubby Smith and Cincinnati's Mick Cronin have met when both were head coaches. They met two other times when Smith was head coach at Kentucky and Cronin was an assistant at Louisville.

-- Cincinnati has been ranked nationally for 13 straight weeks, its longest such streak since the 2012-13 season.

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-- The Bearcats and Tigers met for the 74th time in a series which spans 39 years and four conferences. Cincinnati leads the series 41-33, including a 23-10 mark at Fifth Third Arena. The home team has won the past six matchups.

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